There aren’t many series on any level of sports that have gone uninterrupted over the last 100 years, but world wars, depressions and natural disasters have not been enough to stop Laurel and Hattiesburg from meeting on the gridiron.

Saturday the two programs will celebrate a century of tradition as they battle for the Lil’ Brown Jug once again.

Leading up to their 100th jug battle, Laurel will host a community pep rally along with a battle of the bands featuring the Tornado and Tiger bands. Those activities will begin at 4:30 p.m. “Between the Bricks.”

In addition to the rivalry, tonight’s game is one of three in Region 3-5A this week that carries playoff implications. Hattiesburg (5-5, 5-1 Region 3-5A) defeated West Jones 20-17 last week to secure its playoff berth, but Laurel (5-5, 4-2) will be fighting for its season. With the West Jones win over Wayne County Thursday night, a win over Hattiesburg secures Laurel a spot in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

“It doesn’t get any bigger,” Laurel head coach Ryan Earnest said to his team after their 21-18 win over Wayne County. “It’s Laurel. It’s Hattiesburg. It’s jug week. Enough said. Everyone knows what this game means. It's going to be one of the best atmospheres a high school football game can have.

“You win and you get in. It really doesn’t matter who it is. Really doesn’t matter where it is. It’s time to put everyone on notice.” After dropping their first four games, the Tigers pulled key upsets over Wayne County and West Jones to put themselves in position to win the Region 3-5A title.

While the Tigers are not particularly dynamic offensively, their defense is one of the best in the state. The unit is led by junior linebacker Tabias Hinton, who has been almost unblockable coming off the edge.

“Tabias is a great young man that is very talented on and off the football field,” Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance said. “He is as humble as they come and is coachable every time he steps out onto the field. He’s constantly in the weight room and is always a delight to be around.”

Laurel offensive tackles Malik Ellis and Malachi Breland will be tasked with slowing down Hinton and giving their skill players time to get the ball out of the backfield.

“We’ve been looking forward to this,” Ellis said. “Tabias is their top prospect, and we have got to get our hands on him and slow him down. He’s good, but  can’t let him have his way.”

Offensively, Laurel has started clicking over the past month. Turnovers plagued the Tornadoes early in the season, but a 52-point explosion against Natchez in early October remedied their offensive issues. Since then, Laurel has averaged 35.3 points per game.

A big part of that production has to do with the emergence of senior running back Kiron Benjamin. Against Wayne County last week, Benjamin rushed for three touchdowns, 131 yards and a two-point conversion to keep the Tornadoes’ playoff hopes alive.

“We take it one game at a time, and this is the next one,” Benjamin said of playing Hattiesburg. “We gave it (the jug) to Hattiesburg last year. Our goal is to take it back and keep it in Laurel.”

Laurel leads the series 49-45-5. Hattiesburg has won 6 of the last 7 meetings with Laurel last winning in 2019.

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