Laurel to square off with 4A powerhouse Poplarville
Coach Todd Breland and the Laurel Tornadoes have a history of facing tough non-region opponents early in the season in order to prepare for region competition.
Remaining true to their reputation, the 5A Tornadoes will kick off the 2019 season with a road game against Class 4A powerhouse Poplarville. Breland said facing such a tough opponent is the perfect opportunity to test and develop his football team right out of the gate.
"As a team that's 38-5 over the last three years, they definitely know how to play football," said Breland. "They're well-coached at what they do, which presents a lot of problems. They run the Wing T, they're really good at it and they probably have one of the best running backs in the state to give the ball to."
That running back is junior Chase Shears, who rushed for 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall, leading the Hornets to a 13-2 record and a 4A South State title. The Hornets were beaten 25-20 in the Class 4A state championship game against Louisville. Poplarville also played for the 2016 state championship, falling to Lafayette, 27-12.
The biggest key to combating such an experienced team, Breland said, is playing a clean game without committing crucial mistakes.
"We've got to try to play mistake-free football," said Breland. "We have some new coaches and some new faces on the field, so I really just want to see these guys play hard and play at an extremely high pace."
The Tornadoes must also face the challenge of competing without senior defensive back Keno Shelby, who plays a leadership role on the unit. Shelby is recovering from a baseball injury and is expected to return within two to three weeks.
The opening kickoff between the Tornadoes and Hornets will be at 7 Friday night and is anticipated to be one of Week 1's most exciting matchups.