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By JOEL COLEMAN
As the Ackerman Indians embark on their latest challenge of the 2011 football season tonight, they don't have to go far.
In fact, they don't even have to leave Choctaw County.
After a 1-1 start to the year that included a home win over Noxapater and a loss on the road to Winona, Ackerman travels to face a red-hot French Camp team tonight that has started its campaign out 2-0 with victories over tradition-rich programs Eupora and Weir.
It's a test that the Indians and head coach Adam Dillinger are looking forward to taking part in.
"It's the first time we've ever gotten to play them (in football) that I know of," said Dillinger. "(The players) all know each other, so there's always a little incentive when it's somebody close and you know them. You hate to call it a rivalry game though, because we've never played them, but being close to them does make it a little more heated I guess you'd say."
Perhaps adding fuel to the fire for tonight's 7:30 p.m. game is French Camp's early-season success.
As the Panthers put up wins in their first two weeks, it caught the eye of Dillinger.
"They're a really good team," said Dillinger. "They're still young, but that means they'll have a lot of good years ahead of them. They're going to have a lot of success this year and the years to come.
"A lot of people thought (French Camp's early wins) were a fluke, but it wasn't a fluke. They've went out the last two weeks and have done a great job."
French Camp's hot start to the year has been sparked by an offense that has already put up 66 total points in the first two games.
With the Panthers led by a bevy of skill players, Dillinger knows his defense will face a stiff challenge tonight.
"Anytime you've got offensive weapons like they have that's always a big-play threat, you can never be comfortable," said Dillinger. "They're able to score at any minute so you've got to be prepared every play."
North Pontotoc (2-0) at East Oktibbeha (2-0)
East Oktibbeha is about to face, literally, its biggest challenge all season.
Class 4A North Pontotoc comes to Crawford tonight for a 7:30 p.m. game, providing Titans head coach Randy Brooks with an interesting perspective.
"We realize North Pontotoc has more people in their graduating class than we have in our whole school," said Brooks. "But the feeling we have around here is that you can only put 11 guys on the field at the time.
"Our guys are looking at this as a challenge. It's going to be kind of like David and Goliath."
Luckily for Brooks and East Oktibbeha, the Titans will go to battle with three of their biggest stones ready to be hurled at the looming giant.
Jamarquiz Page, Arthur Gillespie and Terrence Rice, who were all ejected after an altercation in last week's win over McAdams, won't have to serve a first-half suspension this week against North Pontotoc.
"Our appeal (to the Mississippi High School Athletics Association) went through," said Brooks. "Those guys sat out the second half last week, so we appealed to the state and they said it was no need in punishing them twice since they sat out a whole half last Friday."
Winona (1-1) at Eupora (1-1)
Eupora will look to notch its first home win of the season tonight at 7:30 p.m. against a tough Winona team.
The Eagles are coming off of a 41-21 road win over Noxapater last week while the Tigers defeated Ackerman 34-28 in Winona.
"It's a big game for us and a big game for them," said Eupora head coach Junior Graham. "They're a really good team. They've got good athletes in the skill positions on offense and do a good job of mixing up the pass and run. Defensively, they run to the ball and do a lot of blitzing. They're really aggressive. Just your typical Winona team."
East Webster (1-1) at Weir (1-1)
East Webster will try to bounce back from a tough loss as the Wolverines travel to Weir for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Weir is coming off a 46-25 defeat at the hands of county rival French Camp a week ago, while Okolona used a fourth-quarter comeback to down East Webster 21-10 last Friday.
Wolverines head coach Doug Wilson says he believes his team learned lessons in the loss to Okolona that could help them tonight and beyond.
"We feel like we got better," said Wilson after last Friday's game. "That's what we want to do is get better every week so when we get to district play, we'll be ready to go."