OXFORD, MS (WDAM) - The 2017 football season wasn't necessarily all that easy for Jefferson Davis County High School.
The Jaguars, for the most part, just kind of made it look that way.
Take Saturday morning in the Class 3A state championship game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Jefferson Davis County spotted unbeaten Yazoo County High School a touchdown lead on the opening kickoff before clawing apart the Panthers 36-7.
The Jaguars' 12th consecutive victory will be acknowledged by a championship banner bearing the name of a school that didn't exist a season ago.
"We just had to come together and prove everybody wrong," said JDC sophomore wingback Kyser Booth, who was named Player of the Game after rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns and scoring a third time on a touchdown reception.
Jefferson Davis County stirred from the ashes of the now-defunct Bassfield and Prentiss high schools. But the demise of the former arch-rivals birthed not a phoenix but a Jaguar.
It had not been the easiest of deliveries.
"These kids, they deserve what happened out here (Saturday)," JDC coach Lance Mancuso said. "All that they've been through, to see their lives turned upside down less than nine months ago and to be able to pull it together and come out here and play as one group, as one unit, is just remarkable. It really is."
"Any time you bring two groups together like that, there's going to be obstacles, and there're going to be bumps in the road. But what we didn't allow were those bumps to become roadblocks, and that's a testament to all of our coaches while we tried to stay one step ahead of the kids."
After stepping on its own toes to open the game, the Jaguars (15-1) had no problems getting, and then staying, ahead of the Panthers (14-1) Saturday.
JDC kicked off to open the game. Three straight kickoffs resulted in three crooked kicks, all out of bounds, costing the Jaguars 5 yards a pop. Finally the fourth one stayed between the lines, but this one cost the Jaguars 66 yards, which is how far Yazoo County senior return man Devarrio Sanders took back the pooch kick.
It turned out to be the high-water mark of the day for the Panthers.
"They did a real good job against us," Yazoo County coach Robert Dobbs said. "We couldn't get going offensively. They were bringing pressure from everywhere. We didn't have time to throw. We couldn't run the ball. So, I tip my hat to them. They did a good job against us."
Defensively, it was dominating.
Yazoo County had come into the game averaging 377 yards total offense, including 292.2 yards rushing per game. Saturday, Yazoo County netted 64 yards total offense, including 39 yards rushing.
The Panthers did not manage a first down until there were about 6 minutes, 20 seconds left to play in the second quarter. The Panthers would record just two first downs in the first half, just three for the entire game.
"Our defense has played great all year," Mancuso said. "It's been our special teams and our turnovers on offense that has put them in a bad situation.
"I think our defense finally got the (recognition) it needed and I'm just so proud that the people got to see just how good they really were, because that's how good they were all year."
With the defense stifling Yazoo County, the Jaguars began picking up speed on offense.
A 22-yard punt return by junior running back Jafharis McKines set up Jefferson Davis at the Panthers' 31-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Lyric Hall found Booth wide open for a 27-yard touchdown off play-action that tied the game 7-7 after a quarter.
The Jaguars then strung together a 12-play, 89-yard drive that spanned the first and second quarters. McKines, who ran for 83 yards on 20 carries, rushed nine times for 58 yards on the drive. On fourth-and-goal from the 14-yard line, he ran a circle route to the right and hauled in a touchdown pass from Hall that gave Jefferson Davis County a 14-7 with 7:01 left in the first half.
A fumbled punt at the Jaguars' 25-yard line could have breathed life into the Panthers' hopes, but an end zone interception by senior Ronald Baker ended the threat, and Jefferson Davis then went 80 yards in five plays to break Yazoo City's back.
Booth ripped off two runs for 32 yards, Hall scrambled for another 45 yards and McKines banged in from the 3-yard line. From interception to touchdown, 43 seconds had elapsed and Jefferson Davis had a 21-7 halftime lead.
The second half was all Jaguars. Jefferson Davis rubbed six minutes off the clock with the opening drive of the second half that ended in a punt, then ended the quarter with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Booth in the end zone on a 19-yard run. When junior James Washington ran in the two-point conversion, Jefferson Davis had a 29-7 lead.
Booth capped the scoring with a 17-yard run.
"I can't say (how I feel)," Booth said. "I'm a sophomore and this is my first state championship, but I just did what I had to do."
The championship trophy was not the first for Mancuso, who took Seminary High School to a Class 2A state championship and guided Bassfield to Class 2A crowns in 2009 and 2012-15.
"I don't know about habit, but we sure hate the alternative," Mancuso said. "I just know I'm extremely proud of this and these kids. I don't know if it's sunk in yet."