POPLARVILLE The eighth-ranked Pearl River Wildcats open their football season on the road this Thursday against the ninth-ranked Northwest Mississippi Rangers in a contest that will be a litmus test for both squads. Both perennial MACJC powers will get a solid idea of their gridiron prowess in 2011 after locking horns at 6:30 p.m. in Ranger Stadium. Tenth-year Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten knows it will be a tough task for his squad. As good as they (Northwest) are year in and year out, well both know where we stand after that first game, Hatten said. Theyre the defending North Division champions and pounced us pretty good (27-17) last year at our place. Well have our hands full. Weve both got great winning traditions and we both want to make a statement in our openers. It going to be fun to coach and fun to watch. Fourth-year head coach Ricky Woods, who boasted an incredible 213-43 high school record before arriving in Senatobia in 2008, has made giant strides. In his first season in 2008, he guided the Rangers to a post-season berth only to fall to eventual state champ Mississippi Gulf Coast in the first round of the playoffs; while in 2009, NWCC finished at 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the North Division. But the Rangers fell to Coahoma in the regular season and that loss proved to be the deciding factor in their sitting at home during the post-season. Coahoma, which sported an identical 4-2 division mark, nabbed the playoff spot berth via a tie breaker. A year ago, Northwest cruised through the regular season unblemished at 9-0 overall and its 6-0 division mark claimed the North title before it was shocked by eventual state champ MGCCC 52-24 in the first round of the state playoffs. Regardless of that one setback, the Rangers were still ranked sixth nationally in the NJCAA final poll. Back in the 90s, they were the dominate team in the North Division, Hatten said. Coach Woods is really turning things around up there. Northwest is a well-coached team and theyll be ready to play in their season opener and we have do the same. Last season against the Rangers, five turnovers doomed the Wildcats in Poplarville, marking the first time in five meetings Northwest pulled out a win since Hatten took over The River reins in 2002. In that game, PRCC All-American quarterback Melvin German of Ft. Myers, Fla., shined in his collegiate debut. The then-freshman connected on 33 of 48 passes (one interception) for 341 yards, but was sacked a whopping seven times six in the first half alone by Ranger defenders. Seth Roberts of Tallahassee, Fla., caught six of German throws for 100 yards in the contest, while Steve McNair, Jr., snagged 10 for 99 yards. Both wide receivers will be back in the starting line up Thursday. Melvin got better and better as the season wore on last year, Hatten explained. And he a much, much better player this go around. Were looking for him to be a big reckoning factor this year. Wood calls his 2011 unit the most talented he has had and expectations are extremely high, despite the fact that only one offensive starter and two on the defensive side return. Hatten, on the other hand, returns nine offensive and five defensive returning starters.The Pearl River-Northwest Rivalry Pearl River holds a 26-10 win-loss advantage over Northwest in the series that dates back to 1937 when the Wildcats demolished the Rangers 54-0 in the two teams inaugural match up. The series didnt resume until nine years later when PRCC won 14-6, kicking off a string of nine straight victories over a 20-year span before the Rangers won their first battle with the Wildcats via a 21-7 margin in 1966. NWCC also won 27-20 the following season, but PRCC answered with a 20-0 shutout in 1968 and won six straight before the Rangers dropped the Wildcats 24-20 to open the 1976 season in Poplarville. The two teams drew a rematch for the state championship that season with Pearl River taking a 17-7 win in Senatobia for its 15th MACJC title. The two teams met in week three of the 2009 season when the Wildcats survived a second-half Ranger onslaught to take at 38-35 victory. PRCC led 24-0 at the half of 2009''s battle. The previous season, The River took an 18-0 home win, finishing the night with 315 yards of total offense to Northwest 241. In 2006''s first-round post-season playoffs, PRCC took a 31-21 victory in Senatobia, propelling the Wildcats into the MACJC title bout where it nipped Copiah-Lincoln 21-20 in Wesson for its unprecedented 19th state championship. Pearl River, which has won national titles in 1961 and 2004, went on to play for the NJCAA championship that season in the Pilgrim Pride Bowl in Mt. Pleasant, Tex., but fell to Blinn (Tex.) 19-6. In 2009, the Wildcats trekked to Northwest in week three and survived a second-half offensive onslaught by the Rangers including 21 third-quarter points to salvage a 38-35 victory after blanking their hosts 24-0 at the intermission. Northwest has won or shared eight state championships, including back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992. From 1982 until 1992, the Rangers were the MACJC champs five times. It last championship came in 1999. Pearl River, on the other hand, boasts an unprecedented 19 state titles, including national championships in 1961 and 2004. The Wildcats won four straight MACJC titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.Other MACJC Season Openers In other season openers all Thursday night non-division battles around the MACJC, Coahoma hosts 19th-ranked and defending South Division champ Copiah-Lincoln in Clarksdale, Northeast Mississippi hosts East Central in Booneville, 16th-ranked East Mississippi hosts second-ranked and defending state champ Mississippi Gulf Coast in Scooba, Hinds hosts Itawamba in Raymond, Southwest Mississippi hosts Holmes in Summit, and Jones County hosts Mississippi Delta in Ellisville.River Over The Airwaves All Pearl River games are broadcast live on WFMM-FM (97.3) in Hattiesburg, WFFF-FM (96.7) in Columbia, WBOX-FM (92.9) and WBOX-AM (920) in Bogalusa, La.; and WRJW-AM (1320) in Picayune. Long-time play-by-play announcer Jason Baker, color commentator Clay Sweet, and sideline reporter Jeff Lossett will handle the broadcast. Airtime for Thursday PRCC-Northwest broadcast is 6:30 p.m. For fans at the game, tune your FM radio dial to 88.1 to listen to the broadcast. You may also watch and listen to the Wildcats over the internet by logging on to <a href="../">www.prcc.edu</a>. Click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, and follow the instructions. Northwest will also broadcast video of the game at <a href="http://www.ustream.tv/">www.ustream.tv/channel/nwcc-football</a>.