Sports column: Eight-man or 11-man, football is still football

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, October 29, 2023

Porter’s Chapel Academy’s football team has had a season for the ages in 2023. It finished the regular season undefeated, earned a first-round bye in the MAIS Class 2A playoffs, and set a number of school and Warren County records along the way.

While everyone seems to be celebrating the first two accomplishments on that list, others are taking issue with the third.

You see, these days, Porter’s Chapel plays 8-man football. Almost all of the other players who sit atop the Warren County record book played the traditional 11-man version. There is an opinion, it seems, that that distinction should cause PCA’s individual achievements to come with an asterisk or be scuttled off to their own section of history.

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Eight-man football has a reputation for having more offense and scoring since there is more space on the field to create big plays. There is a perception that it’s not “real” football, on some level.

It’s a silly notion.

If you’ve ever watched an 8-man game, you’d probably understand why. Most of the concepts, fundamentals, plays and formations are the same as you’d see across town at an 11-man game. Within a couple of series you’re unlikely to notice any difference between the two.

“If you’ve never seen it, yes, you have a perception of it. But if you were rolling up to a game on Friday night and didn’t know that’s what you were going to watch, it would probably take you a few plays to realize something’s a little different here,” PCA head coach Blake Purvis said. “It is still football. They’re still having to execute the same things that an 11-man team has to execute. You’re not scoring points if you’re not blocking. It’s just not happening.”

PCA’s record-setting season does not stem from having to contend with fewer defenders, either. As Purvis often points out, the Eagles have to play with eight men as well and don’t get to use 11.

PCA’s stats, rather, flow from simply being better than the teams on their schedule. The Eagles had an 11-11 record in their first two seasons in the MAIS’ 8-man division. This year, with a talented and experienced senior class and a relatively weak schedule, they are 11-0 and beating a lot of opponents the way good teams at any level would beat bad ones.

PCA has scored 40 points or more in nine of its 11 games, but its point totals are not out of line with the most lopsided scores you’ll see each Friday across the MAIS and MHSAA. In fact, six opponents have scored eight points or less so there is some defense involved in these games.

MAIS rules tweaks, like playing 10-minute quarters instead of 12, and a generation of coaches and players who have adapted to the 8-man game have helped keep scores in check.

“There’s definitely more defense played than when it started. You were seeing a lot of 80-70 games then,” Purvis said. “The kids are better now at open field tackling. The coaches have learned to scheme it up better. You’re definitely seeing defense being played. We’re holding opponents to less than 15 points a game.”

From a historical standpoint, the Eagles are setting season and career records by being consistently good.

Quarterback John Wyatt Massey tied Warren County’s single game record with six touchdowns against Wilkinson County Christian on Oct. 13, and has a school-record 33 for the season, but has only thrown for more than 200 yards once. He is only averaging 10.6 pass attempts per game.

Similarly, Jase Jung and Thomas Azlin have set school records for rushing and receiving touchdowns, respectively, but neither has had a single game that would be classified as historic.

Jung has 10 100-yard rushing games, with a season high of 242 yards last week against Prairie View. Azlin has 16 touchdown receptions, but a modest 23 catches for 630 yards overall.

Purvis said one style quirk of 8-man football does provide a chance to rack up more stats. Most defenses, he said, play man-to-man coverage exclusively rather than mixing it with zone. Fast, quick players can turn small plays into big ones by breaking one or two tackles.

Still, it comes down to PCA’s players being more talented and executing better than most of their opponents. The Eagles had a lot of the same players the past two years and clearly did not do it as well as they are this year.

“We’ve got a lot of good players. But we’re good because they’re winning one-on-one battles. That doesn’t matter how many people are on the field,” Purvis said. “The one stat, if anything is skewed in 8-man, is yards per carry, because you do see some runs that in 11-man there may be a safety back there and they may be tackled for 10 or 11 yards, and in this they go for 60. But the way we’re executing, I think we’re still getting those yards. It just may take a couple extra plays to get them.”

Ever since the MAIS added its 8-man division in 2007, it has had its critics. Plenty of folks looked down their nose at it, as if the small schools making the switch had a mission in life to be cannon fodder for the bigger, stronger programs.

Those small schools owed it to their student-athletes to give them the best chance to be competitive. That was what PCA did when it switched to 8-man in 2021. Sometimes, their teams will be much more than competitive.

The 2023 Eagles don’t deserve an asterisk, or their own section of the record book. They deserve to be applauded for being one of the best teams in school history, and doing what those kinds of teams do — kick butt, take names, and set a few records along the way.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

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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