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Southern Miss joining MHSAA title game rotation, to host in 2018

Another major Mississippi university will have 12 high school football teams invading its campus the first weekend of December in the near future. Joining Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the University of Southern Mississippi will insert itself into the rotation of hosting the MHSAA football championships beginning in 2018.

Oxford and Starkville have already had one turn at hosting the championship games for all six classifications with Mississippi State getting its second turn this weekend and Ole Miss set to host for a second time in 2017. It will be the first time Hattiesburg will have the opportunity to welcome schools from all across the state as they compete in the Gridiron Classic.

“Now that we’ve been to (Ole Miss and Mississippi State), we’re going to go in ‘18 to Southern Miss and play there because we know this place and they know us,” MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton said on Monday after the press conference for all 12 football coaches participating in this weekend’s state title games. “We can’t go to too many places and have a great venue like that.”

Hinton, a USM graduate, is excited to add his alma mater into the rotation after the announcement to move the state championships away from Jackson and Veterans Memorial Stadium two years ago. Southern Miss was awarded the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game on a bi-annual basis, splitting time with Montgomery, Alabama and sending the game to the Magnolia State for the first time in its history. The plan is to still keep that agreement going with Southern Miss hosting in 2017 and 2019.

“For us as a staff, when you see the logistics that are involved, it would be very, very difficult in the early going to go to three different places or four different places,” Hinton said. “It’s just too much going on. Now we know the staff, and they know us.”

Some new, some old

This weekend’s championship games welcome some familiar faces as well as some new ones.

There will be new champions in 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A. Simmons has returned to defend its Class 1A championship as they take on Lumberton, which defeated Nanih Waiya to represent the South. The final two teams in 6A, 5A, 4A and 2A are completely new as Clinton, Pearl, West Point, Laurel, Lafayette, Poplarville, Calhoun City and Bay Springs did not make it to Ole Miss last December. Charleston returns in hopes of avenging their 34-32 loss to Collins last season.

“You love to see some new folks come,” Hinton said. “Not that we aren’t for all the schools, but just the parity that’s in our state. This year in particularly and the last few years because there’s some really good coaches that have gone places and brought teams that haven’t annually been good. I think that’s really made a difference and helped bring some new teams here.”

Bay Springs punched a ticket to the Class 2A title game after defeating the defending four-time state champions Bassfield last week. Bassfield was aiming to go out on a high note as their football program is ending after this season with the school consolidating with Prentiss High School.

“We’ve got respect for Bay Springs because they beat Bassfield and we could never do it,” Calhoun City head coach Perry Liles joked during Monday’s press conference.

Bassfield defeated Calhoun City in the 2013 and 2014 state championships.