There are a lot of ways to measure success here on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days where Stone High School checks in as stop number 23.
For the Tomcats, their recent success is measured by playoff appearances, but not many playoff wins and that’s the part they’re trying to change in year five of the John Feaster era.
Head Coach John Feaster said, “We’ve been blessed since I’ve been here to make the playoffs every year. And when you’re not used to winning and you don’t have tradition – it’s been a long time since we’ve won here at Stone County – so I think guys kind of get complacent and think oh, we’re going to make the playoffs. We’re going to be good. And that’s not the case, man. You’ve got to come out and you’ve got to play. The game is not played on paper and you don’t play with the past.”
In present day Stone County, the Tomcats are coming off their fourth straight trip to the playoffs despite last year’s overall record of 3-7 and just seven wins combined over the past two seasons. Tight End Noah Tice said, “The past couple of years, we’ve been like four and three wins, and we just want to be different. We’re hungry this year. We want to be different. We want to leave our mark, just get out and grind, you know?”
Better late than never, the 2019 Tomcats finally built up an appetite for winning by the end of October, dominating their last two region 7 games to crack the post-season yet again. Quarterback Triston Hickman said, “That was good for us to finish off the regular season – I mean, we played great – two great wins at the end of the season in the regular season. But we just want to feel that every week. What we felt last year in the beginning of the season, we don’t ever want to feel that again. We just want to keep the winning going, playing hard, playing for each other.”
After drawing a first round match up at region 8 champion Moss Point, Stone found itself on the brink of winning its second first round game since 2017 after not having previously done so in 26 years. But it just wasn’t meant to be for the Tomcats who dropped a 24-23 heartbreaker at the hands of the Tigers. “Windy. It was windy, cold but at the end of the day it hurt.”
“I mean, we were hurt. Our kids were hurt. And of course, I feel like Moss Point outplayed us that night. Our kids played hard, but I always say the team that plays the hardest wins and the team that coaches the best wins and that’s what happened. So I think it left a bitter taste in our mouth, their mouth and I think they’re looking forward – like I said – I think they’re looking forward to the season now. They feel like hey, we could’ve made a run, but we didn’t.”
One of the things working against last year’s team could be a strength in 2020, having now run its new offense for a full season. “We transitioned more into a spread offense. But we spread it to run it, and we basically just take what the defense gives us. So at the end of the day, that takes a lot of repetition on timing. When you’re trying to RPO and different things like that, you’ve got to get a lot of reps. You’ve got to have your quarterbacks and your receivers working on timing all the time.”
“It was all new to me, but I feel more experienced now with reading the defense and everything like that and I feel good now.”
Incumbent starting Quarterback Triston Hickman is one of about four returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, although Stone is up from 10 seniors last year to 13 this year.
And it’s the class of 2021 that still remembers what it is like to get out of the first round so long as the Tomcats remember to drink up. “Making the playoffs is one thing. That’s an expectation that’s kind of built around here. But we want to exceed that and go deeper, and leave our mark here.”
“It’s the top thing. We work every day to get to the state championship, to win that state championship. No mercy, no matter what.”
“Like I try to tell them, it’s here. It’s in the water, man. But it’s up to us to tap into it. So I think – like I say – I hear the kids, their conversations, and they believe. They believe they can make a run in the playoffs. They believe that they can win a district championship. But now it’s time to go out and do it.”
Stone actually opens its season a week late on September 11th on the road at Hancock. The Tomcats picked up an extra home game against Moss Point on September 25th.