OXFORD — Jefferson Davis County coach Lance Mancuso this past week preached two essentials for beating Yazoo County in the State 3A Championship:

• “I told them our offensive line had to win their battles. They had to dominate the line of scrimmage.”

• “And I told them that on defense we had to have 11 guys running to the football and getting after (Kenny) Gainwell.”

Missions accomplished. Jefferson County High, in its first year of existence, accomplished that and a lot more in a 36-7 trouncing of Yazoo County’s previously undefeated Panthers. Thus far, the combining of Bassfield and Prentiss high schools, at least on the football field, has worked to perfection.

When people talk about the Jeff Davis Panthers, what they usually talk about is s-p-e-e-d. The Jaguars have it in abundance, much of it inherited from Bassfield’s long run of Class 2A championship teams. Bassfield players were rarely very big, but, brother, they could run.

What people don’t talk about much – and what is just as important – is how mostly short, solidly squat offensive linemen block and knock the opponent off the ball. The Jaguars offense is nothing fancy at all. The quarterback is under center, and they run out of a now old-fashioned wing-T. There’s, almost no zone blocking at all. No, the Jaguars, who mostly start low because of their height, stay low, fire off the ball and whip the people in front of them.

They did it all season. They did it again Saturday. That’s how they ran for 340 yards on 55 carries. They threw only four passes, two for touchdowns.

“We preach staying low,” said offensive line coach Ryan Higdon. “Our guys work so hard you would not believe it. They don’t believe they are too short or not big enough. They work and work and work. I’m so proud of them, I don’t know what to say.”

One of the Jaguars lineman, who’s not so short, is senior Justin Duckworth, who has been a four-year starter, three at Bassfield and now at Jeff Davis. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 – and he might be that in his spikes – and 330 solid pounds. His legs are like oak tree trunks. He will play for Mississippi in the Mississippi-Alabama game Dec. 16 in Hattiesburg. They might want to adjust his size in that game program.

“I’m probably more like 6-1 and 340,” Ducksworth said, grinning.

“In practice we have a chute we have to stay under,” he said. “If you raise up, you hurt yourself. We have the chute and we have our motto.”


“HTA,” Ducksworth answered.


“Hammer that ass,” he answered.

Consider it hammered.

One more question for Ducksworth: How has the merger of former rivals Prentiss and Bassfield worked out?

No words were needed. He turned and pointed with his thick left arm to the jumbotron scoreboard, which said Jefferson Davis 36, Yazoo County 7.

The only problem the Jaguars had was with the opening kickoff. Kameron Johnson, one of the Prentiss additions and a starting defensive lineman, kicked off three times out of bounds, perhaps trying to keep the ball away from Gainwell. And when he finally kicked one in the field of play, Devarrio Sanders, not Gainwell, returned it 66 yards for a touchdown.

After that, the only time Yazoo got past the Jeff Davis 45 was when the Jaguars fumbled a punt. Not to worry, the Jaguars quickly got the ball back on an interception.

Now then, about that Jeff Davis defense. Quarterback Gainwell, the Class 3A Player of the Year and he was that for a reason, managed 10 yards running and 25 yards passing. He was sacked four times and harassed all day. He was a marked man and Jeff Davis hit him bullseye. Keep in mind, Gainwell produced about 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns this season.

Several times, Gainwell would escape the grasp on one – maybe even two – defenders, only to be swamped by three more. It must have seemed to Gainwell that 15 blue-shirted Jaguars were on the field.

“Man, they run to the ball,” Gainwell said. “Every team has been gunning for me, but they are different. They are one helluva team. Hats off to them.”


From October, the Jefferson Davis County High School story.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.