There has to be something special for anything to last 100 years.
And the annual Little Brown Jug rivalry game between Hattiesburg and Laurel is just that.
In 100 years of uninterrupted play, countless future college stars, professional athletes and future coaches have played in the game.
But like most things that tend to span the longevity of time, things get lost in history. It’s easy to think that towns that are about the same size and close in vicinity would develop natural friendly rivalries in most places.
One of the lost pieces of history is how the game between the two rivals resulted in them playing for – of all things – a Little Brown Jug or, as it is known today, THE Little Brown Jug.
There are two origin stories for the Little Brown Jug game. The local version is that two opposing fans bet a bottle of moonshine on the outcome of one of the early rivalry games.
The other story, or rather similarity, is that this high school game took many traditions from the Michigan and Minnesota rivalry game, where those two teams began battling for a little brown jug in 1903, 19 years before the start of this rivalry.
Regardless of the origin, the one certain thing is that the Little Brown Jug rivalry is the most respected game in Mississippi high school sports.
While there are numerous memorable games, certain games showcase the history of the rivalry. Each side’s respective hometown newspapers, The Laurel-Leader Call and Hattiesburg American, helped provide each game’s story and circumstances.
The origin of the series begins during the days of the Big 8 Conference. Mississippi high school football’s landscape was similar to the modern college football formula. Teams played in conferences to both win a conference championship and earn a bid to a bowl game.
Laurel and Hattiesburg were two of the original members of the Big 8 Conference, which began in the 1920s and is why the series has stayed continuous since 1922.
One of the original traditions for the rivalry game was for it to be played as the last game of the season on Thanksgiving day. From 1927 to 1960, it was a common sight for fans to overcrowd trains and travel to the game. But the biggest tradition was not added until 1931, which is when the series adopted the now famous Little Brown Jug. Through the years, the Jug was regularly referred to as a “symbol of football superiority between the two teams.”
Nov. 26, 1942: Laurel 28, Hattiesburg 7
22nd Jug Game
The matchup was considered a toss-up as Hattiesburg entered the game with a 3-3-2 record while Laurel entered the game 4-4-1.
The Tornados’ Carroll Jackson scored the first touchdown. Hattiesburg’s “Soapy” Stone helped the Tigers respond with a 60-yard scoring drive, which he capped off with a 5-yard run. Yet Jackson, Bob James and George Mayfield all scored to seal the game for Laurel.
What makes this game so memorable is the trepidation that surrounded the it as the United States of America was experiencing its first football season during World War II.
An article in the Laurel-Leader Call two days before the game read, “Seven seniors will be playing final for Laurel High School along with many other boys who will be in the armed forces before another football season rolls around.”
While Laurel went on to win the next six Jug games, the 1942 game showcased the perseverance to not only play the traditional game, but it was also one of the many historical events the game would face.
Nov. 20, 1970: Hattiesburg 10, Laurel 7
48th Jug Game
This game was another that did not hold much importance at the time, but is now one of, if not the most, crucial game in the history of the rivalry because it was the first time African American players would step onto the field.
Former Hattiesburg cornerback Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Fairley was one of the first African Americans to play in the Little Brown Jug game.
The 1969-1970 season was the first time African Americans were part of the football team, but that season they were only on the sophomore team. So it was not until the 1970 game that they would be included in the varsity game for the first time for both Laurel and Hattiesburg.
Fairley attended Hattiesburg High School, then referred to as Blair High, under the Freedom of Choice law, which allowed African American students the option to go to the White schools or stay in their current school.
At the beginning of the 1970 season, racial tension was an issue within the Hattiesburg team and with outside factors. For pregame meals, coaches would have to get permission from certain restaurants to allow their African American players inside to eat with the rest of the team.
“There was racial tension with our own team,” Fairley said. “It was a period where people were getting adjusted or trying to learn each other’s likes and dislikes, trying to figure out our differences, even from a cultural standpoint. There were no African American coaches that first year. There were tensions in the atmosphere.
“In the South, in this area, football is almost like a way of life. It helped tear down barriers that existed.”
Because the Little Brown Jug game was played towards the end of the season, the early issues within the team were soon forgotten.
“Most of the tension on the team was gone,” Fairley said. “I knew it had left when I experienced a flagrant foul. Players from my own team came and rolled up on my behalf. I knew there was a change then because they started seeing the purple and gold. I was attacked as a purple and gold player. You could tell with little bitty signs that progress was being made.”
In the 1970 game, Laurel was considered a heavy favorite. According to Fairley, that was partly because the Tornados had larger integration numbers than Hattiesburg.
Laurel entered the game with a 7-2 record and jumped out to a 7-0 lead, with Benny Hinton scoring in the first quarter.
The Tigers, which held a 5-4 record, narrowed the lead in the third quarter as Burke Ellzey kicked his first field goal of the season from 30 yards out. Quarterback Thad Fowler then scored the go-ahead touchdown after a 74-yard drive.
“It was a momentous occasion (to play in the game),” Fairley said. “By the end of the year, a lot of those tensions were gone. We were eating our pregame meals together. You could feel the spirit of wonders coming.”
Sept. 5, 1997: Laurel 38, Hattiesburg 33
76th Jug Game
The game itself was probably not as memorable as the circumstances around it. The 1997 matchup was the first season that the game was played at the beginning of the season rather than at the end of the season, as it had been for the first 75 years.
The 1980 season was the final year of the Big 8, as the Mississippi High School Activities Association elected to go with its modern state playoff system.
By 1984, Hattiesburg and Laurel were no longer in the same district. Eventually, the Tigers were put into a larger 5A classification while the Tornados were in 4A.
So the rescheduling of the game became more understandable. Neither team was in the same classification, so why play an intense rivalry game just before the playoffs? That was the thought process between then Laurel coach Buddy Duke and then Hattiesburg coach Doug Merchant.
“It was mine and Coach Merchant’s idea,” Duke said. “Getting beat up in that last game of the year, and then the next week, you have to start the playoffs. We had to continue the rivalry, but because we were in different classifications, we needed it to be a non-division game and play at the beginning of the year. The ultimate goal is to win a state championship.”
Laurel alum and current head football coach Ryan Earnest is one of the few players that has the distinction of playing the rivalry game as both the last and second game of the season.
“I think it brought more spice to the rivalry because at that point, everything was still fresh, and everything was still new,” Earnest said.” Everybody was relatively healthy. I think it made for a more competitive game for both sides because they were healthy.”
However, the game was still missing its once-traditional meaning and ramifications, which led to many fans and reporters losing some interest in the game.
Regardless of the game losing some tradition, the 1997 game was the epitome of a classic Little Brown Jug upset.
The Tigers were ranked No. 4 in the state and were led by future Florida running back Robert Gillespie. In front of a crowd of 4,000 fans, the two rivals went back and forth. Laurel jumped out to a 21-7 lead, but Hattiesburg retook the lead at 33-23 in the fourth quarter. Running backs Marion Rogers and J.J. Scott both scored in the fourth quarter to give the Tornados the final lead. Rogers finished the game with three touchdowns.
It was the first time Laurel had won the Jug in four years, and it was Laurel’s first Jug Game win at home since 1983.
“Heck, it had been four years since we had won it,” Rogers told the Hattiesburg American after the game. “We’ve heard stories and seen pictures, but nobody on this team had ever seen it. We really didn’t know what the thing looked like. We just had guesses.”
Sept. 9, 2005: Hattiesburg 6, Laurel 2
84th Jug Game
The 2005 Jug game had many strange distinctions to it, largely due to the historic catastrophe that Hurricane Katrina brought to Louisiana and Mississippi.
The previous year actually stirred some controversy in the series, with Duke switching sidelines and taking the head coaching job at Hattiesburg in 2004.
While it may have seemed an act of treason for Laurel fans, no one has a bigger understanding or appreciation for the Jug game than Duke. It played a critical role in ensuring that the game had to be played, post-Hurricane Katrina.
“I was displaced for nine days,” Duke said. “I didn’t want my name to have the asterisk. Everybody had suffered so much devastation, and most people still didn’t have power. We felt like we had to play it to give the two communities something to look forward to.
“I still had players missing that had gone to live with relatives. (Former Laurel coach Milton Smith) had the same thing. But we played the game, and it was hot more than anything.”
Hurricane Katrina quickly became another historical event that the Jug game overcame. However, this one almost ended the game. For two weeks, the southern part of Mississippi was shut down, and football was the farthest thing from anyone’s minds. Well, almost everyone. Yet the Jug game was to be played in some of the most difficult circumstances.
Laurel’s stadium had no electricity and therefore the game had to be played at blistering two o’clock on a Saturday. And because there was no electricity, a portable scoreboard was brought to the field, and time was kept by the officials.
“It was probably one of the most gratifying experiences that I have had as a football coach,” said Earnest, who at the time was an assistant at Laurel. “It was scorching hot, but for about two and a half hours, we got to forget that we had just been ravished by the worst hurricane in the history of the state of Mississippi. We could all focus on something we that could look to, and that was the jug game.”
It was by no means the prettiest game in the history of the series. After two weeks of no football, both sides started to practice again, and several players were still displaced due to the storm.
The game itself was not much to remember. Laurel jumped out a 2-0 lead after a bad punt in the second quarter led to a safety. Despite starting the game 3 of 16 in passing, Hattiesburg delivered the game-winning play with less than one minute left in the game.
“A play that will go down as of one of the most memorable in Hattiesburg High School football history,” Hattiesburg American Assistant Sports Editor Alan Hinton wrote. “With less than 60 seconds, Hattiesburg quarterback Marcus Barnes connected with wide receiver Frank Lee for a 52-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline that lifted the Tigers to a 6-2 victory.”
Aug. 28, 2015: Hattiesburg 34, Laurel 32
95th Jug Game
Even though the game had now stood the test of time and several major historical events, it had been missing the vital piece, which was for the game to impact the season. Depending on who you talk to, the game lost some of its excitement in the 1990s and 2000s.
This was due to the fact that the game was no longer a conference game. That changed in 2015 after Hattiesburg was reclassified to 5A, and so for the first time since 1980, the two teams could at the very least meet in playoffs.
The first game to kick off this rebirth era is probably one of the all-time classics for Hattiesburg – and for Laurel, one of the most painful memories in the series as the Tigers staged a 26-point comeback with four minutes left in the game. Even though there are plenty of epic comebacks in this series, this game helped re-spark the competitiveness and luster for the rivalry.
“I think that a lot of people outside of the Hattiesburg and Laurel community thought that the rivalry kind of died,” Former Laurel coach Todd Breland said. “It seemed like one of us would struggle through the course of a few years, and it was kind of lopsided.”
“When Hattiesburg and Laurel both started having success and then started playing each other in the playoffs when we were both 5A, I think it grew a lot more attention.”
Behind future Southern Miss quarterback Keon Howard, the Tornados jumped out to a 32-6 lead, which they held until just under four minutes left in the game. Coaches, former players, and fans always are quick to explain that the intensity of the game leaves room for anything to happen. At least in 2015, it was a lesson that was relearned.
A lot of Hattiesburg and Laurel fans left the game because it was pretty much out of hand with less than four minutes left.
“I think it’s safe to say now that both fan bases never leave the game early,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “They hang around because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s never over until it’s over. I think both teams learned that lesson that night.”
Hattiesburg quarterback Julian Conner threw a pair of touchdowns. A recovered onside kick set up Conner’s third touchdown within three minutes. Laurel then fumbled, and Conner delivered the go-ahead touchdown with 39 seconds left.
“I remember going back and watching the film, and in the last 15 plays of that game, had anything changed, we still win,” Breland said. “Just one of them. Everything was just in slow motion. It’s still non-belief to me.”
Laurel would get the last laugh that season because for the first time, the two teams met in the playoffs, where the Tornados came out on top.
Since 2015, the rivals have met in the postseason two other times, one of which was in the South State Championship game in 2017, bringing back the spark to the game.
Sept. 4, 2020: Hattiesburg 26, Laurel 12
99th Jug Game
The 99th edition of this game was probably the closest that this game came to never happening.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut the entire world down, especially the sports world, in the spring of 2020. Across the country, seasons were canceled, playoff games were halted and even state championship games were canceled in other states.
For an entire summer, the uncertainty of a football season being played in Mississippi loomed. Luckily, the MHSAA allowed the season to go on, albeit in a shortened season. Teams across the state were forced to cancel their first two games of the year. The Little Brown Jug was both Laurel and Hattiesburg’s second game of the season. Quickly, both Earnest and Vance began trying to reshuffle their schedules to ensure the game was played.
“It was one of the first conversations that I had with Coach Vance early on with figuring out how to play this,” Earnest said. “The jug game had survived World War II, Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina. We felt like if it could survive all those things, then we could figure out a way to get it done in the new COVID world.”
Both teams sacrificed bye weeks to allow the game to happen. Since 1922, it was the first time the Jug game served as the season opener. The game itself was an upset win for Hattiesburg as the Tornados were considered a contender for the 5A state championship at the start of the season.
The Tigers forced eight turnovers, five of which were interceptions, to help propel Hattiesburg to the 26-12 win.
Nov. 6, 2021: TBD
100th Jug Game
Most would think that the story of a 100-year history would finally come to a natural halt with plenty of more talented players and crazy games to occur. That’s not quite the case for this year’s game.
For the first time since 1980, this game will once again have meaning for the regular season. These two former conference rivals will now play each other as district rivals in the last regular game of the season.
When the MHSAA reclassified Hattiesburg and Laurel into the district that included Wayne County, West Jones, South Jones, Natchez, Florence and Brookhaven, it was proposed during scheduling that the Tigers and Tornados again play on the last game of the year. Unanimously, each school in Region 3-5A approved it.
Yet regardless of the outcome, the 100th game is a symbol of what has been and for more to come. The 100th edition will be remembered as the symbol of numerous trials and tribulations for two communities that hold the game as a valued part of their history and tradition.
Credit: Source link