SOSO, Miss. (WDAM) - Three games into the 2020 football season, West Jones High School had yet to get its usually dependable running game on track.
Then came Thursday night.
The Class 5A Mustangs used their size advantage to push around a game Class 2A Taylorsville High School enough for a 35-21 victory on a wet track at Mustang Field.
“That’s what we were worried about, their size, their physicality,” Taylorsville coach Mitch Evans said. "Our size up front, our depth up front, isn’t what it usually is
“But our guys played hard. I’m not complaining about anything we did (Thursday). We had a good a plan for what they did and our kids played their guts put. They just beat us.”
Senior running back Kentrel Pruitt ran for 85 yards on 20 carries, including a 7-yard touchdown run. Sophomore running back Joshua McDonald netted 70 yards on seven carries, including a 54-yard scoring run.
Senior quarterback Alan Follis, who completed 8-of-15 passes for 88 yards with two interceptions, had 51 yards on seven carries.
West Jones senior linebacker Kendorean Russell, one of the anchors of a stout Mustangs defense, got a large dose of goal-line work, and wound up scoring three times on runs of 1-yard, 2 yards and 4 yards.
“He’s probably our best player and probably our best running back,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said of Russell. "But yiu can’t play both sides of the ball, wide-open, at the level he plays.
“So, when we have the opportunity to put him in the game to run the ball, he’s a finisher. He’s probably the best player I’ve ever coached, just pure football player.”
West Jones came in having netted 228 rushing yards in its first three games. Thursday, the Mustangs ran for 239 yards, with all five of their touchdowns coming on the ground.
Pierson said the Mustangs (4-0) played to their strength, especially given the sodden conditions an off-and-on rain created.
“To be honest with you, that’s really where our advantage was,” Pierson said. “I think they knew, and we knew it.”
“Obviously, we took the air out of the ball, but if you’re going to win games, you’ve got to win in every kind of environment, and this was one just one of those things where we had to adjust.”
Taylorsville (4-1) hung tough for the majority of the game, but couldn’t rev an offense that had averaged more than 550 yards a game.
Thursday, the Tartars were outgained 327 yards to 280 yards.
“We played a really, really god team (Thursday) in West Jones,” Evans said. “They’re well-coached, well-prepared. They’ve got a great bunch of players and it’s just a great program.”
Taylorsville senior quarterback Ty Keyes' effectiveness was muted as much by the conditions as by a West Jones defense that, at times, was able to bring pressure and was athletic enough in the back end to mitigate the big-play threat of the Tartars' receiving corps.
Keyes completed 17-of-38 passes for a modest-by-his-standards 186 yards. He rushed for a score and threw for another, along with a 2-point conversion.
But he also threw his first three interceptions of the season, though one was immediately returned when West Jones fumbled the pick back to the Tartars.
At times, the level of play by both teams matched the conditions. The two combined for eight turnovers, including five by the Mustangs, and 21 penalties for 132 yards in lost yardage.
“Did we have some silly mistakes?” Pierson asked. "Sure, we did, but you try not playing a game for 14 days and then come playing a team that’s won two state championships in the last three years.
“It was challenge, but I was happy with the way we responded.”
Taylorsville took the opening possession of the game and drove from its 33-yard line to the West Jones 36, where the Tartars turned the ball over on downs.
West Jones then set the tone, moving 59 yards, mainly on the ground in chunks of yardage mostly between four and seven yards. Russell cracked in from the 1-yard line for 7-0 lead.
The Tartars answered less than a minute into the second quarter, with Ty Keyes rolling right on first and goal from the 1-yard line, and slipping into the end zone to tie the game 7-7.
West Jones needed just three plays to respond. After a pair of Pruitt runs netted 17 yards, McDonald burst through a hole in the middle and sped 54 yards to put West Jones up 14-7.
The score stayed that way until about 5 ½ minutes were left in the first half. A West Jones drive ended on a fumble that Taylorsville recovered at its 20-yard line.
A 5-yard penalty bumped the Tartars back to the 15, and a low snap on the next play was recovered at the Taylorsville 9-yard line by senior defensive lineman TyJuan Keyes.
A pass interference on third-and-goal from the 8 set up Russell’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left in the first half as the Mustangs took a 21-7 lead into the break.
A 1-yard run by running back Jeffrey Pittman pulled Taylorsville within 14-13 in the third quarter, before Pruitt’s 7-yard run gave the Mustangs a 28-13 lead after three periods.
The Tartars refused to go away.
Keyes found senior Arterious Miller in stride across the middle for a 74-yard touchdown and followed by lobbing a short rainbow to Karson Evans for the 2-point conversion. With 11 minutes still to play, Taylorsville was within 28-21.
But the Mustangs kept the Tartars off the scoreboard the rest of the way and Russell’s 2-yard touchdown run with 1:47 to play iced the game.