While East Marion is understandably amped about pulling off consecutive playoff upsets to reach the Class 1A South State Championship, the Eagles (8-5) have to quickly turn their attention to arguably the top 1A team in the South the last three seasons: Nanih Waiya (13-1).
The Warriors have compiled a 41-4 record since 2016, reaching the South championship in all three seasons. They won it last year before falling 22-20 to Simmons in the state title bout and beat East Marion 51-12 in the first round in the process.
East Marion head coach Kevin Jackson said the Warriors offensive line stands out the most.
“Their offensive line is really good. It’s probably one of the better ones we’ve faced this year. No. 76 (Caleb Warren) is a commit to Ole Miss; he’s the real deal. He can block,” he said. “(Our defensive line) will need to play in their gaps, come off low and hard and be as physical as possible. That’s what is going to have to happen because that’s where the game will be won, in the trenches.”
The Warriors have scored 40 points or more 10 times this season and have four runners ranging from 11 to 22 touchdowns on the ground. Jackson said it’s going to be super important to rally to the football with the Warriors having several different runners with varying running styles, from big and powerful to small and shifty.
“That’s been our battle cry all year long. Early in the season, we had an issue with tackling, and we’ve fixed that. But we need to run the football, get four or five men to the ball and try and create turnovers,” he said. “It’s going to be important to get several hats to the ball.”
Nanih Waiya owns a plus-19 turnover differential and is also allowing just 7.5 points per game this season.
“They’re a very sound defense. They don’t have anybody that just jumps out of the screen at you, but everybody is playing sound football, doing their jobs and being in position to make plays,” Jackson said. “They do a very good job of being where they’re supposed to be and doing their responsibility.”
For as great as the Eagles played against Lumberton, they did have two second-quarter turnovers that could have flipped the game the other way. While they were able to survive those two without allowing a point off of them, Nanih Waiya is a cut above and is great at scoring in those situations.
Jackson added the Eagles are at the top of their game as well, though, and are looking forward to taking a stab at the defending South State champs on the road in Louisville Friday night.
“We are playing with a lot of confidence these last two weeks. We’re just humbled to have the opportunity to play in the South State Championship,” he said.
The victor will face the winner of Smithville and Simmons in the State Championship at 3 p.m. Nov. 30 at Southern Miss.
Pictured Above: East Marion's Latrel Waller and Jaquarious Jones team to take down Lumberton's Robert Henry. | Photo by Joshua Campbell