Picayune looks to prove naysayers wrong again
The court of public opinion is anything but foolproof.
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The Picayune High School football team provided an illustration of that this season as the Maroon Tide proved prognosticators wrong by putting together a year that will culminate with Saturday's 7 p.m., Class 5A state championship game against Starkville.
Whether or not Picayune carries a golden ball out of Mississippi Memorial Stadium this weekend, Maroon Tide running back Dereonte Magee says he's extremely proud of how his team has already proven the naysayers wrong.
"We're very blessed," said Magee. "We had doubters at the beginning. People thought we'd struggle to start the season but we came out and we shocked everybody."
Those who predicted Picayune to disappoint this year had a solid foundation for their beliefs.
The Maroon Tide entered the 2011 campaign having lost 16 starters from last year's squad which finished with an 8-3 record after a first-round playoff exit.
"Our expectations weren't really high coming into this year," said Picayune head coach Dodd Lee. "We didn't know what to expect. But we were fortunate to get two road wins right off the bat against Gulfport and Petal and I think that gave us enough confidence and enthusiasm to work a little harder and just get better.
"We did get better as the year went on and turned into a pretty good football team at the end."
Picayune, who, like Starkville, enters Saturday's game with an overall record of 12-2, has indeed played its best football of late.
The Maroon Tide is currently riding a six-game winning streak, the last three victories coming as postseason triumphs over McComb, Pascagoula and Pearl River Central.
Picayune's only losses this season came at the hands of Ocean Springs and Moss Point.
The reasons for the Maroon Tide's surprising success are many, but they start with Magee.
The senior has rushed for 1,834 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, giving Picayune its primary running threat.
Yet Magee is quick to point out he is far from being the Maroon Tide's only weapon.
"We have a very strong offensive line," said Magee. "I give them my thanks every time I run the ball because I know they're doing a great job at doing what they do."
Though Magee has proven to be Picayune's biggest weapon this year, the Maroon Tide is anything but one-dimensional offensively.
Junior quarterback Ben Hickman has passed for 1,115 yards and 13 scores this season, causing opponents to respect the Maroon Tide's air attack as well.
"We are a run-oriented team, but we can throw the football," said Lee. "We'll take advantage of (the passing game) if it's there."
Defensively, Picayune has proven to be solid as well, particularly of late.
In their three postseason games, the Maroon Tide has allowed just 10 points per game on average.
Lee says his team's defensive success can't be pinpointed to any one particular individual or factor.
"We like to run to the football," said Lee. "We're not very big, but we've got good speed. We're just a normal high school football team. Talent-wise, I'm sure a lot of teams have more talent than us, but we just have to all do our jobs."
Even with his defense's recent success, Lee believes Picayune is about to face one of its toughest tests in the form of Starkville and athletic, dual-threat quarterback Gabe Myles.
Still, Lee says Myles can't be the Maroon Tide's sole concern.
"I know Myles is the straw that stirs the drink and he does a great job," said Lee. "But they've also got good speed and good skill people around (Myles). Their defense is very aggressive and you can tell the team has a lot of fun playing. That's really what it's all about. If you have a lot of fun playing and believe in what you're doing, you're going to have a chance to win every week."
Despite his respect for Starkville, Lee obviously hopes it's his squad that has all the fun on Saturday.
For that to happen, and for Picayune to once again surprise its doubters, Lee says the Maroon Tide has to find a way to keep things close against the explosive Yellowjackets.
"We've got to get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win," said Lee. "Starkville is so big-play oriented offensively, it makes you hold your breath. Myles makes you hold your breath.
"But if we can get to that fourth quarter with a chance, sometimes the game gets taken out of your hands and turns to somebody else's hands."