OXFORD, MS (WDAM) - The last thing that Hattiesburg High School football coach Tony Vance and his Tigers wanted was to finish the season second in the pecking order in Class 5A football.
But Vance said he was not going to let a 41-15 loss Saturday night to defending Class 5A football state champion West Point High School to diminish what Hattiesburg had accomplished this fall.
"They're winners," Vance said. "Regardless of what the scoreboard said, they're winners, and they'll be winners in life.
"This team did something that hadn't been done since 1998, and I am so proud of them. Yes, we're still searching for our first state championship, but we're going to get there. I am so proud of this football team and what they accomplished. Nobody can ever take that away from them."
Vance, who had won a 2011 state championship in as Charleston High School's head football coach, made a vow to his Tigers Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"We'll be back," Vance said. "We'll be back.
"We've got a great group coming back, and even though we've got a lot of guys we have to replace, we'll be back. We'll be back."
Hattiesburg (14-1) lost for the fifth time in five trips to the title game Saturday, and should the Tigers return for the sixth time for a shot at a state football championship, they will not have to contend with West Point senior quarterback Marcus Murphy or senior running back Chris Calvert.
Murphy slipped and slashed for 226 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, averaging 9.8 yards a carry against the Tigers. Murphy, who was named Player of the Game, also completed 7-of-9 passes for 81 yards.
"It's like I just told somebody, I'm already getting stressed out (because) he won't be playing for us next year," West Point coach Chris Chambless said of the imminent departure of his offense's triggerman. "But he's a quality person, and that's what makes him so great. He's a quality person who just happens to be a very good football player."
Murphy will be taking Calvert out the door with him after the running back wrapped up his high school career by rushing for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
Between the two of them, Murphy and Calvert combined for 42 of their team's 50 carries, gained 329 yards of the team's 354 yards rushing and scored all six of the Green Wave's touchdowns.
That was more than enough to help produce West Point's 28th consecutive victory, the Green Wave's second consecutive Class 5A football state crown and add an exclamation point a perfect, 15-0 season.
"Hats off to that West Point team and Marcus Murphy," Vance said. "Great player, and he's Mr. Football for a reason and they proved that (Saturday). They did what they had to do to win the football game."
What West Point did was short-circuit the Tigers' running game and pester HHS junior quarterback Jarord Conner into early mistakes in the meat of the game.
Hattiesburg netted just 48 yards rushing on 25 carries. Conner would wind up with touchdown runs of 2 yards and 6 yards, but he only managed 25 yards rushing on 15 carries. By comparison, senior receiver Raheem Willis gained 23 yards on one carry.
Conner threw for 248 yards, but was intercepted three times after he had only thrown two picks the entire season.
"Unfortunately for us, we didn't play as well as we needed to play," Vance said. "Turnovers hurt us, and it was just unfortunate."
Conner also connected on a two-point conversion pass to junior Darius Ruffin and sophomore place-kicker Kendyl Terrell was believed to be the first female football player to score in a football championship after her extra point in the second quarter.
Terrell played just two days after the death of her father, Clemon Terrell, who was director of the City of Hattiesburg's Parks and Recreation Department for the past 16 years and had been a starter on the football field at the University of Southern Mississippi in the early 1980s.
"I wouldn't be smiling right now if it wasn't for (her teammates)," Kendyl Terrell said. "I'm just so glad that I got the opportunity to join with this group because they are the best thing that ever happened to me.
"This opportunity, I know my dad is watching me, and I know he is smiling on us now. I know everybody's in tears, but I know he is smiling on us right now."