Tri-County Academy has been dominant on the field all season.
Tri-County Academy has been dominant on the field all season.

Tri-County Academy is a team that seems to have improved with each passing week.

Now it’s time to see if they can finish.

The Rebels (8-2) went 3-0 in District play to earn a first-round bye, giving them two full weeks to game plan for their second-round game against Brookhaven Academy, set for this Friday in Flora.

The winner will face the Natchez Cathedral-Wayne Academy winner in the state semifinals next week, but as first-year TCA coach Phillip Wasson explained, that’s the furthest thing from his Rebels’ minds.

“We’ve done a good job to this point of not looking too far ahead and taking it one game at a time,” Wasson said. “But getting the bye in the first round was huge because it has given us more time to prepare and get some guys that were banged up healthy.”

And that’s a good thing, because Brookhaven Academy (7-4) is another team on the rise.

The Cougars bounced back from a three-game skid in September and finished the season with two convincing wins, beating Hillcrest Christian 41-14 and River Oaks (La.) 10-3, both on the road.

They dispatched Kirk Academy 27-0 in the first round of the playoffs last week.

Wasson made the 70-mile drive to scout the Cougars, and he came away impressed, especially with Brookhaven quarterback Tyler Fortenberry.

“They are well-coached and they have a lot of talented players,” Wasson said. “Their quarterback is a big kid who can really sling it. He can make all the throws and he can run the ball.”

Wasson watched as Fortenberry threw a 62-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game against Kirk, then ran for an 11-yard touchdown and connected with Collin Waldrop for an 8-yard score to put the Cougars ahead 21-0 before sitting out the entire second half.

Brookhaven coach Ron Rushing - no stranger to MAIS playoff football after winning a state championship at Natchez Cathedral - said he hopes Fortenberry can continue to be effective and lead the Cougars on a deep playoff run.

“Tyler’s one of our really good young players,” Rushing said. “He’s 6-foot-5 and 192 pounds with a big-time arm. He’s gotten better with each game. We’ve been trying to be more balanced and not throw it 40 or 50 times a game, but he’s definitely a nice weapon to have.”

Wasson said Tri-County’s ability to contain Brookhaven’s rangy quarterback will likely dictate whether or not his Rebels will advance to the state semifinals.

“He’s going to make plays and we know that,” he said. “We just need to minimize the damage and avoid giving up the long touchdowns.”

The Rebels will counter with the same balanced offense that has helped them put up an average of 34.9 points a game.

Senior quarterback Cade Shepherd, who is looking to cap his high school career with a state title, has both thrown and run for over 1,000 yards this season and accounted for 22 touchdowns.

Wasson said he feels like his offense will put up some yards, but they have to avoid the costly turnovers that hurt them in their two regular-season losses to Riverfield Academy and Hartfield Academy.

“At this point, every team is good,” Wasson said. “It’s about which team can control the ball, tackle and avoid turnovers.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Flora.