Laurel team captains line up for the coin toss against Hattiesburg last Friday night. (Photo by Brad Crowe)

Inter-county showdown sure to stir fans' passions


Another week, another rivalry. 

The Laurel Tornadoes' non-region schedule continues to get more challenging each week. Following big wins over Poplarville and Hattiesburg, the Tornadoes will travel to Waynesboro on Friday to take on the rival Wayne County War Eagles, who will be anxious to avenge last year's loss to Laurel in the first round of the playoffs. 

"Going over there into that environment is a tough place to play,” Laurel head coach Todd Breland said. "We understand where we're going, and we're going to have to go to battle again." 

When Breland says he understands the environment, he says so with a ton of experience as a former coordinator for the War Eagles. His favorite memory from coaching at War Eagle Stadium is the famous 2003 South State title match between Wayne County and West Jones, which attracted an audience of more than 15,000. 

"It was a great football game for everybody who got to see it, but it was better for us because we won it,” Breland said.

Breland's winning tradition at War Eagle Stadium did not end with his departure from their coaching staff. As the head coach of Laurel, he is 5-2 against the War Eagles and 2-1 when facing them on the road. He knows that those wins never come easy, however, and that Friday night's game will be quite the challenge. 

"Offensively, their quarterback can make some throws. He's a big, strong kid, great runner, and he's hard to get on the ground," Breland said of senior Zek Wesley, who finished his junior year with more than 2,000 rushing yards. "Defensively, their front four are as good as we've seen so far this year.” 

The War Eagles' defensive line is led by senior Armondous Cooley, who is being heavily recruited by several Division I college programs. 

The Tornadoes enter the week riding a wave of tremendous play on both sides of the ball. Their defense has forced nine turnovers in the first two games and Breland said maintaining that high energy on defense will be key for them in big games like the one on Friday. 

The offense started building momentum with a fourth-quarter comeback over Poplarville, which carried over into Week 2 with a 35-point performance to claim the Lil' Brown Jug. Quarterback Xavier Evans is averaging 160 passing yards and 109 rushing yards per outing, with six touchdowns through two weeks. Kanarius Johnson has emerged as the leader of the receiving corps, averaging 16.5 yards per reception on eight catches with two touchdowns. Evans' versatility paired with the downfield play-making ability of Johnson makes the Tornadoes’ offense a difficult matchup for any opponent.

Friday's game will be the 25th contest played between the two schools since 1990. The winner will emerge as the leader of the all-time series, with both schools having split the previous 24 games with 12 wins apiece. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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