–Molly Conway, Contributing writer
They say history repeats itself, and for the Mississippi College football program the cliché may never have been more accurate. The Choctaws are experiencing a bit of déjà vu from the last time the university made the transition into the Gulf South Conference in 1972, when new leadership arrived in the form of head coach John M. Williams (A new conference and a new head coach, sound familiar yet?)
The Choctaws struggled in the early seventies, recording only two winning seasons in the first six years of Division II football. But it wasn’t long before they caught up with their adversaries. MC was considered a major competitor in the GSC and even made it to the second round of playoffs in 1979. Rivalries formed as the Choctaws rallied season after season under Coach Williams. Those rivalries have been reignited in the 2014 season under new head coach John Bland. Mississippi College will once again face North Alabama, West Georgia, Valdosta State, West Alabama, and Delta State as a member of the GSC.
North Alabama was previously MC’s toughest opponent with an overall record of 9-12-1 against the Lions. It seems as though UNA will be problematic again for the Choctaws, as the nationally ranked Lions defeated MC in the September GSC opener, 58-0. The defeat marked the fourth time UNA shut out the Choctaws since the rivalry began in 1974. MC has fared better when playing against UNA in Alabama, with a road record of 5-5-1, but for now the Lions remain the toughest foe for the Choctaws.
Another team the Choctaws will face again is West Georgia. Between 1984 and 1995, MC had a record of 8-4 against the Wolves. The Choctaws lost by only two points or less in three of the four losses, but in the most recent game (and the fourth loss for the Choctaws) West Georgia beat MC 30-15. The Choctaws will travel to Carrollton, Ga. on November 1 to take on the Wolves once again.
This year for Homecoming, MC has chosen to host Valdosta State, another rival school from long ago. The Choctaws lost only once (1986) against the Blazers in nine seasons from 1982 until 1990. Valdosta broke the streak in 1991 with a tie game and continued to win decisively in every game through 1995 when the Choctaws entered the American Southwest Conference. The Choctaws will have a chance to break their losing streak against Valdosta State on October 18.
MC has a shot to reclaim a dominant record over their oldest rival, West Alabama (formerly known as Livingston University) on November 8. The 1970’s struggle to keep up in a new and tougher division was accurately illustrated by MC’s six losses against the Tigers in their first six seasons of GSC play. Only in 1978 did the Choctaws come back with a vengeance by defeating the Tigers on their own turf 24-16. MC dominated the next seventeen years, with the exception of three isolated UWA victories (1983, ‘87, and ‘92) and a tie game in 1993. The Choctaws will host their old rival this season and hopefully add another “W” to their record against the Tigers.
Perhaps the most compelling rivalry Mississippi College will be renewing this season is that with Delta State. In 23 games from 1973 until 1995, MC’s record of 11-11-1 against the Statesmen highlights the battle for the Heritage Bell, the official trophy of the DSU/MC rivalry. The “Fighting Okra” defeated the Choctaws in the first five meetings until 1978 when, as with West Alabama, MC crushed the Statesmen 27-0. The Choctaws triumphed from 1979 until 1983, when the Statesmen retaliated in a 31-21 victory over MC. The record between the schools shows an intense back-and-forth rivalry with the Heritage Bell switching hands every few years. However, the last two meetings between the schools in 1994-95 resulted in a shutout of the Choctaws 14-0. MC faced DSU as their final opponent in the regular season from 1983-95, and will do so again this year. The Choctaws have a chance to bring the Heritage Bell Trophy back to Clinton as they play their final game of the regular season against the Statesmen in Cleveland, Miss. on November 15.
Both the 1972 and 2014 Choctaws found themselves in an unfamiliar conference and a tougher division under the guidance of a new head coach. The transition stage proved to be only a temporary disadvantage for the Choctaws in the past, when MC went on to achieve fifteen winning seasons compete in twelve playoff games (1979-95) after the initial slump. The 2014 season continues to reignite rivalries for MC and remind Bland’s team that the transition into Division II is challenging. But the Choctaws proved themselves worthy of competing in the GSC once before, and they will do it again–if history truly does repeat itself.