An old friend awaits Pillow Academy head coach Tripp McCarty when his sixth-seeded Mustangs make the three-hour drive to Natchez on Friday to face No. 3 Adams County Christian School for a spot in the MAIS Class 5A semifinals.
The second-round playoff matchup marks a reunion between McCarty and Rebels head coach David King, who enjoyed a rivalry-turned-friendship during their previous stints at Brookhaven and Trinity, respectively. Now they battle again in the first meeting between Pillow (9-3) and ACCS (8-2) since 1981.
“I look forward to seeing Tripp,” King said, “but I don’t look forward to seeing those Mustangs out there on our field.”
King scouted Pillow last week and was impressed by the Mustangs’ 62-28 victory over No. 11 St. Aloysius. Senior running back Gavin Lessley rushed for four touchdowns as Pillow displayed an explosive offense despite completing just one pass, a credit to the Mustangs’ dominant offensive line. The unit, led by stud right tackle Frazier Rose, paved the way for 386 rushing yards against the Flashes.
Like Pillow, the Rebels have adopted a run-heavy offense this season due to their personnel. Just as the Mustangs went with a ground-and-pound approach following the graduation of star quarterback Shane Houston Stephens, ACCS shifted to a run-first attack after the team’s quarterback suffered a broken leg for the second season in a row.
“I think we’ve adapted well to who we are, kind of like Tripp,” King said. “Tripp’s like me: He does what he’s got to do to win. He had a really good quarterback last year, and now he has these two kids who run the ball well, and they’re running it extremely well. They’re running the ball with a lot of confidence and they’re scary to have to stop.”
Since the injury under center, King has been forced to rotate some of his top receivers at quarterback, sacrificing talent out wide. But senior leader Tripp Cotten has stepped up everywhere on the field, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and free safety.
“You just have to be prepared for everything,” McCarty said. “(King) is over there on the river, just a riverboat gambler. David’s going to have some tricks up his sleeve. The biggest thing about Coach King’s teams is they play hard. They always do.”
If Friday is anything like McCarty’s first game against King, fans could be in for a slugfest.
“One of the greatest football games this state has ever seen was 2011, my first year at Brookhaven we go over to Trinity and they had a huge home win streak,” McCarty recalled. “They were loaded. Nobody should have lost that game. There’s no telling how many kids played in college who played that night.”
“That’s kind of where our friendship started,” he added, “from that game.”
Brookhaven edged Trinity that night, 40-36, winning the District 5-AA championship on a last-minute touchdown pass by Gage Posey, who joined McCarty’s staff at Pillow as an assistant coach this year.
• Contact Riley Overend at 581-7237 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @OverendOut.