St. Al heads to Cathedral for title game rematch, debut as MAIS members

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The last time St. Aloysius and Cathedral got together on the football field, it was at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium for the highest stakes in the land. Since then, everything and nothing has changed all at the same time.

The two Catholic schools left the Mississippi High School Activities Association in July to join the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, and the rosters have undergone their usual shuffling. When they play again Friday in Natchez, however, they’ll both still be championship contenders with something to prove in their annual rivalry grudge match.

“You want to say last year is last year, but it’s on all of our minds,” St. Al coach BJ Smithhart said. “On top of being our biggest rivalry game, it’s also who put us out. You can’t downplay that too much.”

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Cathedral beat St. Al twice last season, 42-31 in the season opener and 49-14 in the MHSAA Class 1A championship game. Both teams are expected to once again compete for a state title, albeit in a new association.

Cathedral has 19 of its 22 starting positions returning, including nine on defense. Leading rusher Dee Fleming (875 yards, 16 touchdowns in 2014) is back, as is leading receiver Jardarius Anderson.

The Green Wave finished 15-1 last season, and Smithhart said it has the potential to do it again.

“They’re good. They’ve returned a lot. They’re going to be one of the best teams we’ll see all year, if not the best,” Smithhart said. “They lost their quarterback, but the guys they had in the jamboree looked like they were in midseason form. They’re an overall sound football team.”

St. Al is no slouch, either. It lost a few more players than Cathedral did, but still has one of the state’s top running backs with DeMichael Harris and a formidable offensive line.

Harris set school records last season with 2,102 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He ripped off a long TD run in last week’s jamboree game against Riverfield Academy and this summer ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the Mississippi State camp.

St. Al lost one of its two jamboree games last week, 12-7 to Riverfield, and beat Central Hinds 10-0 in the other. Both were district opponents and served as a good introduction to the MAIS.

“We didn’t play bad either game. We just have some things to work on, team-wise,” Smithhart said. “We saw it was pretty good football they play there.”

When it comes to Cathedral, of course, the Flashes need no introductions. The Green Wave is their biggest rival and, just like last season, it’s possible this will be the first of two meetings this year.

Smithhart, though, was putting that second thought out of his mind. As far as he and his team are concerned, the playoff race will sort itself out over the next 10 weeks and particularly during the District 3-AAA schedule in October, not on the first night of the season.

“We’re not worried about the playoffs,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about that in October. Right now it’s just the biggest game because it’s the next one and the first one.”

On the radio

Friday, 7 p.m., 101.3 FM

St. Aloysius at Cathedral

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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