Rebels play for state championship Thursday

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, November 14, 2023

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NATCHEZ — For Adams County Christian School assistant football coach Matthew Freeman, it is a case of déjà vu all over again for the Rebels as they get ready to take on the Simpson Academy Cougars Thursday night in the 2023 MAIS Class 5A State Championship Game.

Kickoff between No. 10 seed ACCS (11-3) and No. 4 seed Simpson Academy (8-4) at Jackson Academy in Jackson is scheduled for 7 p.m. And field conditions up there could be a factor after at least two straight days of rain, some of it heavy, is forecast for the region the first half of this week.

And it could also have an impact on when and where the Rebels will be practicing this week — especially with it being a short week to get ready for the Cougars that have won eight of their last nine games after an 0-3 start to their season.

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“The rain is definitely a factor. We don’t want to go crazy and have someone get injured,” Freeman said. “We’ve got stuff we’ve got to go over and stay in our routine as much as possible,” Freeman said.

Five years ago, ACCS entered the MAIS Class AAA State Playoffs as a No. 14 seed with a losing record after having seven wins forfeited for having an ineligible player. The Rebels won all three of their games on the road and defeated No. 1 seed Indianola Academy to win the state title.

Freeman is in his 10th year as assistant coach of the Rebels, noting, “I was part of that for sure. It made it even more special winning all those games on the road.” 

While there is no controversy of that sort this year, the Rebels entered the Class 5A State Playoffs as the No. 10 seed and proceeded to defeat No. 7 seed Bayou Academy in Cleveland, 49-21 in the first round on Friday, Oct. 27. Then in the rematch against District 3-5A foe and No. 2 seed Parklane Academy in McComb, they rallied to upset the Colonels 41-34 in the quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 3.

Doing the same thing and adding another state championship to ACCS’s varsity football team would be legendary for Freeman as well as head coach David King. And even one of the Rebels’ new assistant coaches in Stanley Smith, who was head coach at Ferriday High School when the Trojans won the LHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2019.

Last Friday night, ACCS found itself down 14-0 to No. 3 seed Copiah Academy midway through the second quarter. But the Rebels found the resolve and they never gave up as the rallied to upset the Colonels 21-14.

The Rebels will need another sterling performance from junior quarterback/defensive back Coleman Carter, junior running back Adrian Walker, and senior wide receivers Damion Johnson and Jordan Berry.

Carter threw for 165 yards on 12-for-20 passing, including a 34-yard TD pass to Johnson, who had two receptions for 45 yards. Carter also had 13 carries for 114 yards and one touchdown as well as the game-clinching interception for the second week in a row.

Walker had 14 carries for 63 yards, including a three-yard TD run with 1:36 left. Carter’s two-point conversion run gave the Rebels their first lead of the game at 21-14. Berry had a game-high five catches for 66 yards. Also defensively, Tristan Burns had a key fumble recovery for ACCS in the second half.
As for when and how long it took for the Rebels to start getting ready for Simpson Academy, Freeman said, “That (Friday) night. We enjoyed the win for about an hour or two and then strictly moved on to the next opponent.”

Perhaps what ACCS didn’t expect was that its next opponent would be Simpson Academy and not Starkville Academy. The Cougars stunned the Volunteers 26-7 on the road last Friday night. Or perhaps, as Freeman put it, maybe the Rebels did.

“We knew that Simpson Academy was a physical team. We kind of figured they would beat Starkville Academy, but not by that much. They’re playing much better now than they were earlier in the season.”

As for what concerns him most about the Cougars on each side of the ball, Freeman said, “They’re a physical team. That’s who they are. They also have a receiver, (junior) Chanse Funchess, who’s about 6-4. He can score from anywhere on the field at any time. We can’t forget about him. They’re going to have a double-tight, split-back back there and they’re going to run right at us. Defensively, they run a 5-2, 3-4 traditional walk up the linebackers. They’ve got to stop our run and they’ve got to stop our pass. They just can’t sell out on one or the other.”

As for who needs to step up and have a big game for ACCS to defeat Simpson Academy and win its second state title in five years, Freeman said, “Our offensive line and our defensive line. They’ve got to have a big game Thursday night. Going to need big performances from our skill guys and Coleman.”

Freeman says despite the weather, he expects a big contingent of fans from Natchez and perhaps beyond to show up Thursday night at Jackson Academy for the big game — just like back in 2018.

“We had a big crowd at Bayou (Academy). We had a big crowd at Parklane (Academy). We had a big crowd at Copiah (Academy). I don’t expect us not to have a big crowd at JA. We hope to have an even bigger crowd from Natchez Thursday night,” Freeman said.