Unbeaten Eagles No. 1 in Class 4A
The Northeast Jones Tigers (4-7, 2-3) have made significant strides a in positive direction throughout the course of the 2019 season. They produced their highest win total since 2016 earned a spot in the Class 4A playoffs for the first time since 2015. As the No. 4 seed from Region 5-4A, the Tigers will travel to Magnolia to face the Region 6-4A champion South Pike Eagles (11-0, 5-0) in the opening round of postseason play.
Though head coach Keith Braddock said he wants much more for the program, he appreciates the way this year’s team has paved the way for them to continue growing.
“For me to tell you that I’m happy with our record (would be a lie),” Braddock admitted. “We want to win every game, but we understand how tough that is. We’ve come a million miles, and we’re a much better team today than we were two years ago.”
The Tigers enter the postseason on a tough, three-game slide with region losses to Quitman, Mendenhall and Newton County. One positive for the team during that stretch was the return of senior running back Tony Barnes. Northeast Jones is 4-0 in games in which its offense totaled 170 or more rushing yards, making Barnes, who averages 5 yards per carry, a valuable piece of the puzzle.
The opponent waiting for them this Friday will undoubtedly be the toughest challenge the Tigers have faced this year. In 11 contests, only four times has top-ranked South Pike allowed an opponent to score more than once in a ballgame, with 18 points being the most surrendered, while the Eagles’ offense is averaging 39 points per game. Dual-threat senior Dontavious Turner leads the team with 2,274 total yards — 1,159 passing and 1,115 rushing — and 31 touchdowns.
Braddock said he and his team are playing with house money on Friday, encouraging his players to leave it all on the field and walk away with no regrets.
“The motto for this week is going to be, ‘Turn loose and have fun.’ They’ve earned the opportunity to play against a really good team, and they have absolutely nothing to lose,” he said.
Northeast Jones and South Pike have faced off nine times in the past, with NEJ leading the all-time series 5-4. Their last meeting, played in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, resulted in a 26-20 victory for the Eagles.