For the first time since 1998, a Carroll Academy football team will play for a state championship this week.
The Rebels will travel to Jackson Academy on Friday night and take on the No. 2-seeded Saints of Greenville Christian for the Class 3A state championship.
Both teams were represented on Monday in a press conference held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Carroll head coach Bo Milton echoed the sentiments of many of the coaches present.
“We are excited to be here, it’s been a long time since Carroll Academy has played in a state championship game,” Milton said at Monday’s press conference. “We are playing a great football team and are going to have to bring our very best effort. We think it’s going to be a great ball game and hopefully we can show up and play really good and give them a good game.”
The Saints are 10-1 overall and the No. 2 seed in the Class 3A playoffs. The Saints lost their first game of the season 27-0 to Tri-County Academy and then beat St. Aloysius 18-3 in week 2. At that time, a wave of players from the public school ranks transferred to Greenville Christian after the Greenville public schools opted out of the 2020 football season.
“We are excited to be here and to still be playing football,” Greenville Christian coach Jon McLendon said at the press conference. “It’s a great honor to be representing Greenville Christian. We get the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed and top. We are excited to be playing but not as excited to be playing them. They are big and physical and they beat you up for four quarters and I think that’s the way Coach Milton likes it.”
From that point, the Saints have been one of the best teams in the MAIS. In week three, the Saints hammered three-time defending champion Greenville St. Joseph 50-7. They went on to take wins over Tunica (44-6), Hillcrest (forfeit), Canton (46-14), Porter’s Chapel (59-0), Indianola (61-21) and Glenbrook (66-42) in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Saints beat Indianola again 20-6 before beating Winona Christian 50-7 last week. The Saints are led junior quarterback Deandre Smith Jr., who is listed as a three-star recruit and has offers from Arkansas State, Mississippi Valley and Southern Miss.
“They have a lot of similarities to St. Joe,” Milton said. “They have a lot of speed and have a lot of good athletes. We can’t give up the big play on defense and we have to do what we do on offense. I’ve watched their last two films, and I think we can play with them. We have to have the mentality to go down there to go win the game. We have a good football team, and we are going to hit them in the mouth.”
It’s that hit-them-in-the-mouth attitude that has carried the Rebels to an 11-0 record as they have outscored opponents 430-75 this season and give up just one touchdown or less eight times this season.
“We are going down there and line up and play,” Milton said. “So many people are in the spread and play like it’s seven-on-seven and we play a different style of football. We are going to get in the box and hit you. They don’t play that way and they don’t practice that way. It’s a toughness we practice here and that starts all the way in the third grade. These kids have been preparing for this game their whole life.”
Senior offensive lineman Cooper Beck, one of three players that Carroll took to Jackson for Monday’s press conference, said he likes his team’s chances against the Saints.
“We feel really good going into this game,” Beck said. “I really truly believe we are going to come out of this game victorious. We just have to hit them and hit them hard. We have to shock them. We are going to be more physical than them on both sides of the football. We are going to hit through the whistle, nothing dirty, but just good clean football and get after them. I think we will be able to line up and shove the ball down their throat. I don’t think we are going to have to play a perfect game to win, but we are going to have to play our ball game. We have to hit them hard. We have to show them what hard-nosed football is all about.”
Senior offensive lineman and middle linebacker Hunter Brower echoed the sentiments of his team mate.
“Just like the rest of the guys, we have to come out more angry than them,” Brower said. “We have to hit them first before they hit us. We play with a chip on our shoulder. We practice that way. If you aren’t looking, you are about to get hit. We go 100 percent in practice and go 100 percent in the game.”