Playmakers preview: Eagles ready to slam on the gas

Published 1:21 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in “Playmakers,” The Vicksburg Post’s annual football preview magazine. The 2023 edition will be available with The Post’s weekend print edition on Aug. 19. You can also get a copy by visiting our office at 1106 Washington St., or by calling 601-636-4545.

After two consecutive playoff appearances, Porter’s Chapel Academy has turned a corner and is ready to stomp on the gas down the straightaway to a deep postseason run.

Head coach Blake Purvis made no bones about what it’ll take to make it happen.

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“We have to stay healthy,” he said, as soon as the question was asked.

The Eagles have all of their key skill players returning, but no depth. There are only 13 players in grades 10-12 on the roster, which is a tiny number even by eight-man football standards.

The upshot is that the 2023 Eagles have a high ceiling, but only if they’re able to keep everyone on the field.

“It’s either we got through it because we were healthy, or we didn’t because we weren’t healthy. That’s going to be the deal,” Purvis said. “I think our team chemistry is the best I’ve had in eight years here. Our practices have been faster. We’ve practiced at a higher tempo. We’re further ahead in our playbook than what we’ve been since I’ve been here. To me, if we stay healthy, the sky’s the limit for these guys.”

A big reason for Purvis’ optimism is that the list of returning starters is loaded with talent.

Junior running back Jase Jung had 1,031 total yards last season (687 rushing and 344 receiving) and scored 12 rushing touchdowns. On defense, he’s snagged 11 interceptions in his first two seasons as a starter.

Jung will be joined in the backfield by senior running back Ty Mack and quarterback John Wyatt Massey, who combined for 849 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2022. Mack also caught 24 passes and Massey threw for 1,262 yards and 12 TDs.

“We’ve got a really good 1-2-3 punch with Jase, Ty and John Wyatt carrying the ball,” Purvis said. “All three of them can take the snap, all three of them can take the handoff and all three of them can throw it. I think we’ll see all three of them do all three things this year.”

Jung led the Eagles with 28 receptions last season. Senior receivers Thomas Azlin (12 receptions, 184 yards, three touchdowns) and Taylor Labarre (25 receptions, 272 yards, one TD) are also back.

Jung said he feels like the team’s speed is among the best in MAIS Class 2A.

“We just don’t have that many players. But if we work hard this season I feel like we’ve got it. The teams that we play, I feel like they can’t keep up with our speed and agility,” Jung said.

Up front, returning veterans Conley Johnston and Hunter Simms will join sophomore center Jackson Blackmon on the offensive line. They’ll also play most of the snaps on defense.

Repeating the theme of the season, Purvis said keeping those three on the field for a full season is critical.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons. Our biggest red flag is going to be staying healthy up front so that we can get these guys the ball and let them play. I think if we do that we’re going to be tough to stop,” Purvis said.

PCA’s five seniors — Massey, Labarre, Azlin, Mack and Gavin Pugh — have helped the program emerge from a long walk in the high school football wilderness.

PCA has made consecutive trips to the MAIS playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, and its first-round victory over Ben’s Ford last season was its first since 2008. Although the team is 11-11 overall the past two years, there’s a sense that the foundation for a breakthrough in 2023 has been laid. It started the season in impressive fashion by crushing River Oaks 66-34.

“We know what it takes to get to the playoffs. Now we’re trying to figure out what it takes to make a deep run,” Massey said. “I think what that takes is more focus — not just on Fridays, but Monday through Thursday. Get what you need to get done and execute.”

And if they’re able to do that, then Purvis thinks there’s a good chance the Eagles will still be working in November.

“Third and fourth quarters are going to be big for us, playing with 12 guys. Getting in shape and staying healthy are going to be the two big keys,” Purvis said. “If we get in shape and can hold on and finish games in the third and fourth quarter and stay healthy, I think we can move forward and take that next step.”

2023 Porter’s Chapel schedule
All games start at 7 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 11 — Porter’s Chapel 66, River Oaks 34
Aug. 18 — Delta Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 25 — at Prentiss Christian
Sept. 1 — Riverdale
Sept. 8 — at Humphreys Academy
Sept. 15 — *Park Place
Sept. 22 — Tensas Academy
Sept. 29 — *at Hillcrest Christian
Oct. 6 — Sharkey-Issaquena
Oct. 13 — Wilkinson Christian
Oct. 20 — *at Prairie View
*MAIS District 3-2A games

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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