SOSO, Miss. (WDAM) - Perhaps, Friday night’s football clash between West Jones and Wayne County high schools will be remembered not only as a rivalry renewed but a rivalry revived.
The Mustangs spotted the War Eagles a 7-0 lead before racing away to a 31-10 victory that snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to the 2010 season.
“It’s not rivalry when you win eight times in a row,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. “It’s a ‘W’ on the other team’s schedule, and let’s be honest, we became a ‘W.’ We weren’t holding up our end of the bargain.
“For a game to have a rivalry (complexion) to it, both teams have to be good, both teams have to be playing at a high level and one team, then the other team, has to find a way to win. We were good, but we couldn’t find a way to beat them. A tip of the cap to them, because eight in a row in this rivalry is hard to do. So, this is a big monkey off our back, I feel like.”
The schools once were long-time division foes, but now stand separated in the South State’s two, opposing regions of Class 5A football. The programs have continued to schedule each other as early-season, non-region competition, and the two easily could cross paths in the South State’s postseason.
But such future considerations seemed far removed from the Mustangs’ Friday night mission to remedy the past.
“It was very, very big, very big, because we hadn’t beaten them in like eight years,” said West Jones junior running back Kentrel Pruitt, who rushed for 100 yards on 12 carries, including a 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “It meant very much to us, and I’m sure (Friday night), everybody’s going to be very emotional.”
The win left the Mustangs (4-0) unbeaten, while the War Eagles (2-2) will head into a much-appreciated open week before the start of region play.
“We’re a little banged up, but we’ll be ready, and our second season will start,” Wayne County coach Shelton Gandy said. “We’re two-and-two, and we’ll go from there.”
Gandy said not only will the next few weeks give his wounded players time to heal, but also allow additional assessment and potential changes if necessary.
“They’re a good football team and you can’tr get off to a start like that and beat a team like that," Gandy said. “We’re not good enough, we’re not playing sound football enough. We’ve got some things to straighten out on offense and help our defense out and get them off the field.
“That’s been our last three games, and it caught up with us this game. Consistency. We’ve got to be more consistent, and if we have to move some guys around and get them in the right places, we’re going to do what have to do.”
Wayne County broke out on top when sophomore Kelnevious Walley skirted left end on third-and-7, and streaked down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown run.
But before the first quarter was out, so was Walley, stranded on the Wayne County sideline, an ice pack strapped around a foot.
“That kind of changed the game a little bit, because he was their edge guy,” Pierson said. “After that, they had to try and pound the ball up the middle, but when they can do both the middle and the edge, they’re just a much better team.”
The Mustangs appeared to be poised to jump right back in the thick of things when a bad snap punt snap set up West Jones at Wayne County’s 13-yard line.
But on the second play, sophomore safety Bakari McCall stepped inside an inside slant route, picking off West Jones junior quarterback Alan Follis inside the 5-yard line to end the threat.
It was one of the few mistakes Follis would make all night. The second-year starter completed 14-of-20 passes (70 percent) for 215 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
He immediately bounced back, catching senior Michael Neal over the middle for a 45-yard gain that set up sophomore Benjamin Cooper’s 36-yard field that cut Wayne County’s lead to 7-3 with 5.5 seconds left in the first quarter.
“He’s like the point guard on a basketball team, and when he’s distributing the ball, we’ve got some wideouts who can make some plays for us,” Pierson said. “When we’re having success in our passing game, that just kind of spreads the field, and then later in the game, you’re able to run the ball as they get out of the box.
“It all starts with (Follis).”
Two of Follis’ scoring passes went to junior Tajrick Randolph.
The first, a 33-yard strike in the second quarter, gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game. Follis followed with 22-yard touchdown pass to Neal. The only offensive response the War Eagles could muster was a 30-yard field goal by Nathan Busby that made the halftime score 17-10.
Neal would finish with four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.
After a scoreless third quarter, Pruitt broke off his long scoring run less than 2 ½ minutes into the fourth period. Randolph then capped the scoring by snaring, a 21-yard touchdown pass one-handed.
“He continues to just get better,” Pierson said of Randolph. “His dynamics with the quarterback, they’re just on the same page a lot, and they’re going to be a lot of fun to watch the next couple of years.”