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Rockets eye improvement this season

By By Marty Stamper / EMG sports assistant
July 28, 2003
After losing their first seven outings, the Neshoba Central Rockets won two of their final three football games in 2002 to finish 2-8 for the second straight year.
This year's team will be taking on several new opponents and maybe that's what the program needs to give it a boost. Neshoba hasn't had a winning season since 1996.
"We'll probably have around 45 out," third-year head coach Jim Ray said. "We lost 10-12 kids from last year.
"We're going to be young. Up until the spring, I didn't realize how many positions they played. We've probably got three starters on each side of the ball. We're totally revamped."
To complicate matters, expected quarterback Josh Palmer is taking his services to Winston Academy.
"Our fullback is the only player in the backfield coming back," Ray said. "We've got three or four linemen back. Our offensive line should be fairly strong."
The Rockets lost to West Lauderdale in their spring game.
"We've got to take care of our fumbling problem," Ray said. "We're going to have to bump and grind this year.
"We've got three starters back on defense.
"We've got some good young kids, it's just how quickly they'll grow up. We need a couple of wins to get some confidence.
"Officially, I have 50 on the roster and 31 have never dressed out in a high school game before."
The Rockets will play several different schools this fall. Gone from division play are Noxubee County, New Hope, West Point, and Aberdeen, although Aberdeen will remain as a non-division opponent.
In their place are Canton, Pearl, Ridgeland, and Jackson Bailey.
Louisville and Kosciusko are the lone division holdovers from 2002.
The Rockets open their 2003 season on Aug. 29 at home against Aberdeen. The Bulldogs defeated Neshoba for the first time last year. Aberdeen's 13-10 win left Neshoba with a 9-1 series advantage.
Neshoba hosts Forest on Sept. 5. The Bearcats hold a 13-6 series lead following last year's 12-10 victory.
Sept. 12 finds the Rockets visiting crosstown rival Philadelphia. The Tornadoes have dominated the series over the last six years to grab a 23-20 all-time advantage.
Neshoba goes to Louisville on Sept. 19 to open league play. The Wildcats have won the last 10 meetings and hold a 23-5 series advantage.
The Rockets host Pearl for homecoming on Sept. 26. In their only previous meeting, Neshoba buried the Pirates 55-24 in the 1990 Class 4A state playoffs.
Neshoba goes to Canton on Oct. 3. The Rockets have won all four previous meetings with the Tigers.
Neshoba hosts Ridgeland on Oct. 10 for the first meeting with the Titans, who are led by Neshoba Central graduate Kenny Burton who was recently promoted to head coach after Lynn Moore stepped down.
The Rockets revive an old Sam Dale Conference rivalry on Oct. 17 when they travel to Northeast Lauderdale. The Trojans hold a slim 6-5-1 series lead. Including is a 67-6 whipping of the Rockets in 1965. Neshoba got a measure of revenge with a 56-22 spanking of the Trojans in 1969.
Neshoba travels to Kosciusko on Oct. 24. The Whippets hold a 16-11 series lead after winning 10 of the first 11 encounters. The Rockets posted a 20-12 victory a year ago.
The Rockets close out their regular season at home on Halloween night with their first meeting with Bailey of Jackson.
"I don't know if the schedule is any easier or not," Ray said. "Louisville has got to be tough again and Kosciusko looked good in the spring. We need to pick up a couple of wins early."