SOSO, Miss. (WDAM) _ West Jones High School football coach Scott Pierson swore that he was not one bit nervous Friday night as the Mustangs took on Wayne County High School in a Class 5A South State football semifinal.
He might have been the only one in a packed house watched the teams take the measure of one another before West Jones prevailed in a 33-30 overtime nailbiter.
“I never doubted them, and I know that may across as arrogant, but they’re just so confident in themselves,” Pierson said afterwards.
Wayne County’s Nathan Busby kicked a game-tying field goal as a sputtering rain began to fall as the game clock tapped zero to send the game into overtime.
Those were the War Eagles’ lone points of the second half, after Wayne County squandered a 24-7 first half lead.
Busby then drilled a 31-yard effort, his second field goal in a 5-minute span, to put the War Eagles up 30-27 on overtime’s first possession.
But West Jones senior running back Kentrell Pruitt provided the pinprick to the balloon of tension that had been flexing in the stands along both sidelines for the better part of the second half.
Pruitt took a handoff to his right, got a seal block on the edge and a kickout effort a few yards downfield and steered into the lane as if Lombardi himself was chalking out the play.
“Once I got to the corner, yeah, I could see it,” said Pruitt, who finished with just 32 yards rushing on 14 carries, but scored three touchdowns, including the game-ending 10-yarder in overtime.
“Nervous? Oh, yes sir,” Pruitt said. “You could see it, everybody on the edge of their seats. But we knew when we out there (in overtime) that at worst, we could kick a field goal.
“But we wanted to punch it in there.”
And by doing so, the Mustangs (13-0) not only remained unbeaten, but West Jones earned a spot in the Class 5A South State championship game.
The Mustangs will defend their South State title against another undefeated team and region No. 1 seed, Picayune High School.
The Maroon Tide (13-0) will visit West Jones at 7 p.m. Friday after pulling away from Laurel High School in the second half to take a 42-28 victory in Class 5A’s other semifinal.
““It’s fun to coach a team that never quits and it’s fun to coach a team that believes it’s always going to win,” Pierson.
For the better part of four quarters, it sure didn’t feel much like West Jones’ night.
The War Eagles handed West Jones a short field in the first quarter on a misplayed punt that was mishandled by Wayne County and recovered by the Mustangs at the 9-yard line.
Two plays later, Pruitt went into the end zone from a yard out for a 7-0 West Jones lead.
And that was just about the last that was heard from the Mustangs until just a few minutes remained in the first half.
Much was heard from Wayne County senior quarterback Zhakerreun Wesley and senior receiver Brevin Gandy, who turned a trio of post routes into touchdowns of 50 yards, 49 yards and 36 yards.
Toss in Busby’s first field goal of the night, a 20-yard effort when the War Eagles stalled at the Mustang’s 3-yard line, and Wayne County had built a 17-point lead with just 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half.
But that was enough time to get West Jones back in the game.
Freshman Antwoine Gavin returned the ensuing kickoff to the Wayne County 30. Junior Alan Follis found fellow junior Tajrick Randolph with a 24-yard pass, and three plays later, Pruitt banged in for a 3-yard score that got the Mustangs within 24-13 at the break.
Then came a second half that saw the Mustangs ground the War Eagles passing game, and Wayne County’s special teams became anything but.
On consecutive possessions, West Jones blocked a Wayne County punt, and on back-to-back possessions, Follis found Randolph with touchdown passes of 5 yards and 28 yards.
Follis hit Jalen Keys with a 2-point conversion pass, in a 27-24 hole.
“I messed that kicking game up,” Wayne County coach Shelton Gandy said. “That was all on me.
“But our kids, they didn’t stop. At the end, they drove down the field.”
Wayne County (9-4) stopped one drive with a thank-you interception from Follis, and then had a last chance possession that started at its own 9-yard line.
The War Eagles made their way downfield in chunks of yardage, having to covert only once on third down.
The clock an empty pocket of War Eagle timeouts dictated a field-goal attempt at the West Jones 14. Busby had to kick three different times after a penalty negated his first kick and a West Jones timeout iced his second.
But he provided right-down-the-middle marksmanship on all three attempts, nailing the 26-yarder to tie the game.
“Man, this game was hard,” Pruitt said. “They came out hard and took it to us.”
Wayne County outgained West Jones 324 total yards to 128 total yards. Wayne County held West Jones to just eight first downs, limiting the Mustangs to only two successful third-down conversions.
“It’s no shame in losing to a good football team and I’m not trying to stand here and take anything away from West Jones,” Gandy said. “But the kids, they fought through some adversity and I can’t be more proud of them.”
Follis wound up hitting 12-of-24 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Randolph caught six passes for 79 yards and two scores.