HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Looking at the season for the Hattiesburg High Tigers, the prevailing view is probably a set of crutches.
Injuries are a plague for every teams, especially the later it gets in the season, but the injury bug has hit the Tigers with a vengeance this season.
"We've probably had as many injuries as anybody in the state, and we've probably had as tough a schedule as anybody in the state," said Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance.
"Through all of that, they've bounced back each week, and when they're healthy they've given us everything they've got every Friday night. I couldn't be more proud of a group of football players."
The most important injuries have been to quarterbacks Tristen Walley and Julian Conner.
Walley, the junior starter, has been recovering from a separated shoulder suffered against Gulfport, while Conner, a talented freshman, has been nursing an ankle injury.
"We've been banged up at that position," said Vance. "But other guys have stepped up and they're doing what needs to be done, and we think they're getting healthy."
In spite of the injuries — and an 0-4 start with losses to Petal, Laurel, Wayne County and Oak Grove — Hattiesburg is in the Class 6A playoffs in Vance's first season.
The Tigers (4-6 overall, 4-2 region) are locked into the No. 3 spot in Region 4-6A, and nothing that happens in Friday night's home finale against Ocean Springs, or anywhere else in the region, will change that.
"We just have to stay focused and take care of the little things," said Vance. "This is an opportunity to get things right before the playoffs begin, because once you're in the playoffs, it's win or go home."
The hard-luck Greyhounds (5-5, 2-4) hope to spoil Senior Night at D.I. Patrick Stadium in their season finale.
Ocean Springs has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 10 years after losing four region games by a combined total of 14 points.
"No doubt, they understand that this is their last game of the season," said Vance. "They've got a good football team. Their coach does a good job of coaching them up and they play hard."
Perhaps Vance's biggest task is to keep the Tigers' attention on Ocean Springs, rather than next week's playoff opener, which will likely be at Oak Grove.
"That's the reality, and you can't deny that," said Vance. "But we have to concentrate on Ocean Springs. If you're not focused on this game this week, you're setting yourself up for failure in the playoffs."
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com