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Mississippi residents 'may skip church' to watch Saints-Jags

(AP Photo/Bill Feig)

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars are big in Brandon, Mississippi, these days.

And not just because Saints linebacker Demario Davis and Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew have banners flying outside the high school football stadium there.

Davis and Minshew will share the field Sunday when the Jaguars (2-3) host the Saints (4-1), and the matchup might draw as much interest as the Super Bowl in the 24,000-person town just east of Jackson, Mississippi.

"There will be people all over town watching," said Randy West, a longtime assistant football coach and assistant athletic director at Brandon High School. "Everybody will be hurrying home from church. Some of them may even skip church to make sure they don't miss kickoff."

West said a slew of locals are making the 600-mile trip to Jacksonville for the game, and he expects the football staff to break from film study to catch at least part of the action on TV.

All of them are clamoring to see Davis and Minshew in the first regular-season game involving two NFL players from Brandon.

"When people talk about the top states in the country, they're not going to mention Mississippi," Davis said. "We always have that blue-collar mentality."

Davis gushed about Minshew while sitting at his locker, which had a Minshew T-shirt hanging inside.

"For him to be out there doing what he's doing now, it's just unbelievable at arguably the most important position on the field at the highest level," Davis said. "He's doing an incredible job to be a rookie thrown in the fire, and to be able to get his team to rally around him and lead them and put them in position to win games has been incredible, and ain't nobody more happy for him than me."

Davis, Minshew, former Atlanta/Seattle running back Jerious Norwood (2006-11) and former New England defensive back Brian Hutson (1990) are the only players from Brandon to play meaningful games in the NFL.

Davis has the most experience, having played 117 games and counting with the New York Jets (2012-15, 2017), Cleveland (2016) and New Orleans.

Minshew has become the most recognizable, with Minshew Mania gaining more traction by the week. The rookie sensation leads all rookies with nine touchdown passes and is one of three quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era with a 100-plus rating and no interceptions through his first four starts.

"I didn't necessarily foresee that coming, but I was happy for him and I wasn't shocked when he started making plays like he did," Davis said. "He's shown he can do that."

Davis and the Saints have to find a way to slow him down.

Davis and Minshew spoke earlier this week and already have plans to swap jerseys after the game.

"I looked up to him," Minshew said. "I remember he came back and talked to us when I was in high school, always been a great role model, so it'll be a lot of fun to play against him."

It's a no-lose situation for many of those in Brandon who watched Davis and Minshew carry the Bulldogs years ago before blossoming in college and then becoming NFL starters.

"It's the No. 1 deal," West said. "Our school is really excited about it. Our whole community, we're a large town, but have a small-town atmosphere. Rooting for these guys, it's contagious."

Here are some other things to know about the seventh meeting between New Orleans and Jacksonville:

RAMSEY RETURNS?

Jaguars owner Shad Khan expects star cornerback Jalen Ramsey to play this week.

Khan told a financial news site, The Street, he had a "heart to heart" with the disgruntled defender earlier this week. Ramsey practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday and Thursday. He missed the last two games because of back tightness.

RUN STUFFERS

The Saints have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 31 games. They held Dallas to 45 yards rushing in Week 4 and Tampa Bay to 94 yards last week. Now, they face Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette, who's coming off consecutive 100-yard games and leads the league in yards after contact (305).

DEFENSIVE BOUNCEBACK?

The Jaguars were gashed for 285 yards on the ground at Carolina, the second most in franchise history, and will try to regroup against Alvin Kamara. Kamara is among the league leaders in broken tackles.

EARNING HIS KEEP

Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who ended a brief holdout by signing a five-year, $100 million contract in late July, had his best game of the season with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. He finished with 11 catches for 182 yards and two scores last week against Tampa Bay.

HOMECOMING GAME

The Jaguars will celebrate "Homecoming Weekend" by bringing more than 80 former players back for the game. The team will wear teal jerseys and white pants to mimic the franchise's original combination worn in 1995.

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Updated October 10, 2019

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