The St. Joseph Catholic School football team has a number of reasons to be confident as the Fighting Irish head into Friday’s MAIS Class 3A State Championship game against Indianola Academy. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Jackson Academy.
For starters, the Fighting Irish (12-0) have won their last 23 ball games, the longest active winning streak in the state of Mississippi. Under head coach John Baker, St. Joe has also won state championships the last two seasons.
Making the Fighting Irish even more self-assured, in virtually every game they play, is the general feeling that they begin each game having the two best players on the field in senior superstars Trey Benson and Dillon Johnson, two record breaking athletes who are each moving on next season to play high Division 1 football. Benson has rushed for 1,672 yards this season and 23 touchdowns, while Johnson, a platoon quarterback who steps in during crunch time, has carried the ball for 1,499 yards and 22 scores.
Yet, for all their confidence and belief the St. Joe coaches and players have, they also understand that nothing will be given to them Friday. Especially when they look across the field and see the team they are facing.
The Colonels (10-4) from Indianola have won the last four match-ups with the Irish, including a 42-14 victory last season, the last loss St. Joe has suffered.
“We are playing against a great physical football team,” Coach Baker said. “This is going to be a physical, smash mouth contest.”
Coach Baker said he expects the Colonels, under the leadership of head coach Tommy Nester, to try and run the ball right at the Irish defense. It is a similar game plan that almost worked by the Carroll Academy offense last Friday in the state semifinals. Carroll Academy was able to effectively run the ball against the Irish to start the game until St. Joe defenders like Brittain Virden, Fred Townsend, Jakory Williams and Elvis Scott rose to the occasion.
Behind fullback Ashton Powell and tailback Woods Toler, Indianola has been picking up strength all season. The Colonels have won their last eight games. Last Friday, Indianola went on the road and defeated Winona Christian 35-28.
Coach Baker describes Indianola senior quarterback Thomas Putnam as a great senior leader as well.
Friday’s game will be the fifth straight state championship game for Indianola, which has won one of those title.
In previous seasons, the Colonals played in a higher MAIS classification than the Fighting Irish. Now, the two powerful Delta programs, separated by just 30 miles, will meet in the state’s capitol with everything on the line.
While Coach Baker has nothing but praise for his opponent Friday, Coach Nester of Indianola is similarly complementary to the Fighting Irish.
“We may have beaten them in the past, but that does not matter. That was a long time ago,” said Nester, in his 14th year leading the Colonels. “This is going to be a hard-fought ball game. They are a well coached team, and they have two great players in the backfield.”