HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - They played rough, and for the most part, played well.
And even after a few blinks , they returned to the table and resumed the rock ‘em-sock ‘em staredown that was the Class 5A state football championship game between the Westies of north and south Mississippi.
In the end, after emptying their collective tank and giving all they had, the West Jones High School Mustangs found themselves awash in the flood of football excellence unleashed Saturday night by the West Point High School Green Wave.
West Point (14-1), the two-time defending Class 5A football champion, outslugged the tough guys from the west side of Jones County, winning a third consecutive crown with a 27-12 victory at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.
“Coach always told us, ‘Whoever flinches first, that’s who loses,’ and we never flinched,” said West Point junior running back Brandon Harris, whose 5-yard run with 3 minutes, 3 seconds, left to play sewed up the victory.
“I’m a champion. Winning, that doesn’t ever get old. I love it, love it. Yeah, we always have a target, but we’re West Point. That’s all we do. All we do is win.”
West Jones (12-3) knew what was in store and knew nothing short of its best game of the season would be needed to give itself a chance.
Playing before thousands of supporters jam-packed into the lower deck of the east side of Roberts Stadium, the Mustangs delivered just such an effort in their first appearance in a state championship game.
Trailing 20-6 at halftime, West Jones turned the game into a one-score affair on a 61-yard, catch-and-run between sophomore quarterback Alan Follis and senior receiver Antonie Kirk at the 9:17 mark of the third quarter.
Then, West Jones gave itself a chance, when DeTourean Crosby blocked and recovered a punt at the West Point 25-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
But on the first play after converting a first down at the Green Wave’s 15, Follis was intercepted at the 5-yard line by West Point senior cornerback Ryan Melton.
The Green Wave took over with 9:23 to play and rubbed 6:20 off the clock on an 84-yard drive capped by Harris’ run.
“You get down there and the coverage tightens, and we weren’t able to execute successfully in the red area,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. “We played better on defense (in the second half), then we got tired late, and they put a championship drive together to put it away, and that’s what championship teams do.
“I’ll tell you, you work so hard to get here, you try and enjoy it, but right now, it sucks. It really does.”
West Jones struck first, driving to the Green Wave’s 22-yard line before settling for senior Walker Thompson’s 46-yard field goal.
Operating out of “Beast Cat” formation, Harris took direct snaps and helped drive the Green Wave to a fourth-and-3 at the West Jones’ 37-yard line.
Senior quarterback Jake Chambless, son of Coach Chris Chambless, converted, rolling right and hitting junior tight end Treddis Anderson with a 12-yard pass. One play later, Harris found Anderson in the end zone with a 25-yard touchdown pass to give West Point a 7-3 lead.
The jumped to 14-3 a few minutes later when Melton broke in on Thompson, blocked his punt, picked it up on the hop and went 25 yards for a touchdown.
But West Jones braced itself, and got back to 14-6 on a 36-yard field goal by Thompson early in the second quarter.
West Point answered right away with an 80-yard drive that featured Harris’ 48-yard run to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Jaylun Eggerson. That score left the Green Wave ahead 20-6 at the break.
The Mustangs had built a season of firsts, including the school’s first South State championship, on the back of a defense that had posted six shutouts and allowed no more than 23 points in any of its first 14 games.
West Point not only scored more points than any other foe, but picked up 315 yards total offense, including 227 yards rushing on its way to the program’s 10th state championship and fifth in Coach Chris Chambless’ 14 seasons.
“I’m going to enjoy this, and Monday start back to work on another one and the stress level starts all over again,” Chambless said. “But that’s what makes it so fun.”
West Jones rushed for 97 yards, with junior Jasper Jones and sophomore Kentrel Pruitt each gaining 50 yards on seven carries apiece.
Follis completed 11-of-27 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Kirk had five catches for 88 yards and sophomore Tajrick Randoplh had five catches for 57 yards.
Harris was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown and completing 1-of-2 passes for a 25-yard touchdown.
Eggerson rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and netting 50 yards on 12 carries and senior Kameron Martin wound up 44 yards on nine carries.
West Point’s win capped a grand weekend for North State teams, which won five of the six championship games played over two days. The lone exception: Class 1A Nanih Waiya’s 21-18 upset of Simmons on Friday.