Nov. 3—The defending Class 4A North half runner-up has continued to dominate so far in 2023. Now comes the chance to go even further.
The Houston Hilltoppers are 8-1 heading into the playoffs and earned the No. 2 seed in Region 3-4A. The only loss came against Louisville, the defending 4A state champion, who many think can win it again.
Houston will host Shannon tonight.
"We're proud to get a home playoff game. We kind of battled some injuries earlier in the year," coach Baylor Dampeer said. "Having a bye week, we got a little healthier. So that was big going into the back end of the season."
Though Houston has most of the players back from last year's playoff run, it does have someone now that it didn't have then.
Jalen Washington tore his ACL early last season. Since returning, the senior running back, who was the 2021 Daily Journal offensive player of the year, has continued to dominate. Washington has 165 carries for 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns so far.
Not only has his presence made a big difference, but Dampeer has been impressed with his ability to rebound from that injury.
"The bye week was a year since (the injury), so that was a big milestone to get over and he's played much better since then," Dampeer said. "But any time you get a guy like that back is really big."
Washington will be a major asset this postseason, especially in regards to Houston's familiar first-round opponent, Red Raiders.
The Hilltoppers faced Shannon on Sept. 1 and won 28-14. Since then, the Red Raiders, under first-year head coach Ken Topps, ended the regular season 6-4 and have made some improvements.
"They're as good as anybody we've played. They're pretty pretty similar to us," Dampeer said. "We've got a big challenge this week. And you know, so just getting past this will be big in itself."
Trey Spurgon is perhaps Shannon's biggest playmaker. The junior quarterback has completed 54% of his passes for 1,784 yards and 21 touchdowns. He's also had 71 carries for 504 yards and four touchdowns.
"We got turnovers last time we played," Dampeer said. "We need to be able to slow the quarterback down, who has been really dynamic lately."
The game kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. in Houston. The winner faces either Senatobia or Leake Central in the second round.
—Meanwhile in 4A, Amory (8-1) takes on Kosciusko (6-3) at Tupelo High.
—Booneville (8-2) hosts Amanda Elzy (5-4) in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
—Smithville (2-8) faces Falkner (8-2) to start the Class 1A playoffs.