JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - West Jones High School has built its football season on the bedrock of its defense.
Friday night, in a see-saw, Region 3-5A contest that nearly checked off the entire list of possible ways to score in a football game, the Mustangs' defense stonewalled South Jones High School.
West Jones held the Braves without an offensive touchdown and forced four turnovers as the Mustangs rallied in the second half for a 30-21 victory before a packed house.
"Anytime you beat a cross-town rival, it's fun and we beat a quality team (Friday night)," West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. "The defense, big turnovers at the right time."
With the win, West Jones (7-2, 5-0 Region 3-5A) further shored up a slot in the Class 5A playoffs and remained tied atop the region standings with Brookhaven High School.
South Jones (7-3, 3-2) slipped another game behind the region frontrunners and into a tie for third with Laurel High School.
"It was good game, two good teams and we fought," South Jones coach Cory Reynolds said. "It could have gone either way. Hats off to Coach Pierson. Their kids played hard. They made it happen and we didn't and we have to go get ready for next week."
Trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, senior quarterback Peyton Brown came off the bench to spark a stagnant West Jones offense, throwing for one score and setting up one of three field goals by junior place-kicker Walker Thompson to get the Mustangs back within 14-13 at halftime.
Senior running back Austin Land rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and iced the game for the Mustangs with a 57-yard burst that allowed West Jones to run out the clock.
"That's what I'm there for, keep the offense going," Land said.
The game was tied 3-3 after one with South Jones sophomore Mike Diers capping a game-opening, 15-play drive to with a 42-yard field goal and Thompson converting a 45-yard field goal after the Mustangs recovered a fumble at the Braves' 26-yard line.
After a punt pinned the Mustangs at the 2-yard line, the Braves caught Land for a safety on the first snap of the second quarter for a 5-3 lead.
South Jones senior running back Ricky Boleware ripped off a 51-yard run that set up a 33-yard Diers field goal to push the Braves' lead to 8-3 and defensive back Shiwon Lovett returned a Dusty Cook interception 47 yards for a 14-3 edge.
Enter Brown, who rushed for 26 yards on his first two snaps, completed a 26-yard pass to senior Devrion Hatten and capped the 67-yard drive with a 3-yard shovel pass to Hatten to get West Jones within 14-10 with 2:35 left in the quarter.
After forcing a South Jones punt deep in its own territory, West Jones rushed from the Braves' 45-yard line to get a 28-yard field goal from Thompson on the final play of the half.
After the Braves dodged a 45-yard field goal attempt by Thompson that went awry, Boleware lost the ball after catching a swing pass from junior quarterback John Mitchell. The ball bounced out to the 27-yard line, where sophomore safety Antoine Kirk scooped up the loose ball and went down the sideline to give West Jones its first lead, 20-14.
"My teammate popped it out, and all I saw was green," said Kirk, who also had two interceptions. "Touchdown."
The lead lasted a little over two minutes. South Jones was forced to punt, but held the Mustangs, forcing a West Jones punt that Lovett fielded at his 4-yard line. Lovett slipped through the middle, avoided two tackles and veered right toward the far sideline. Ninety-six yards later, the Braves were back up, 21-20.
But Brown spurred another drive with two completions for 24 yards, sophomore Michael Neal broke loose for 26 yards on a reverse and Thompson capped the drive with a 31-yard field goal that put the Mustangs ahead 23-21.
On South Jones' next possession, Kirk picked off Mitchell and returned the interception 15 yards to the Braves' 20. On the first play, Land got loose off the left edge, boosting the Mustangs' lead to 30-21 with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
West Jones' defense made the lead stand up. The Braves only netted 114 yards total offense for the game, including just 36 yards in the second half. South Jones had minus 2 yards rushing and just three first downs over the final two quarters.
South Jones' defense also played well, limiting the Mustangs to 249 yards total offense.
"You had a lot of mistakes on both sides because you had kids playing as hard as they could play," Pierson said. "It got sloppy, but it didn't get sloppy because of effort. It got sloppy because of a lot of kids just laying it on the line."
West Jones will host Jackson Wingfield High School at 7 p.m. Friday, with South Jones travelling to Brookhaven at 7 p.m. Friday.