HATTIESBURG — The West Jones Mustangs have been bridesmaids five times in Scott Pierson’s tenure as the school’s head football coach.
If the Mustangs play like they did Friday night, it will be their time to walk the aisle.
West Jones (11-2) dominated top-ranked and undefeated Hattiesburg from start to finish in a 37-14 shocker at D.I. Patrick Stadium in the Hub City.
The victory sets up a South State showdown on Friday night at Picayune against a Maroon Tide team that defeated Laurel 41-22.
“We had to play our best game of the year and we did,” Pierson said. “We played as well as we possibly could.”
West Jones under Pierson have played in the South State championship game five times, but never have gotten over the hurdle. If the Mustangs can defeat Picayune (11-2) on Friday, they would play the championship game at The Rock at Southern Miss, a few miles down Hardy Street from their victory Friday night.
Senior wide receiver Jalen Graham had his most productive night of the season with two amazing touchdown grabs, one where he leapt over two defenders.
“Wednesday during practice, I told him he was the most improved player and he was going to make some big plays for us tonight,” Pierson said. “And I will be danged if he didn’t come up with two of the biggest plays of the game.”
His first touchdown catch with 5 minutes, 34 seconds to play in the first half gave West Jones a 16-0 lead. Walker Thompson began the scoring with a 22-yard field goal and Kentrell Pruitt scored on a 2-yard run for the first two WJ scores.
Hattiesburg and its dynamic quarterback Jarod Conner, who had accounted for 51 touchdowns this season, threw his second interception late in the first half that was returned 63 yards for a touchdown by Antonie Kirk and West Jones led 23-0 at halftime.
With possession of the ball coming out of the locker room, the Mustangs fumbled on the first play deep in their own territory. But the defense that had given up less than a touchdown per game stiffened and a field goal attempt failed, keeping the score at 23-0.
“We talked about that at halftime,” Pierson said. “Don’t give them something easy that would flip the momentum and put us in a dogfight the rest of the night. That happened to us against Laurel.”
The Tigers, who averaged about 45 points per game this season, finally got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter on a Conner touchdown pass to Darius Ruffin and West Jones led 23-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kirk returned the ball 77 yards to the Hattiesburg 13 yard line. Two plays later, Graham hauled in his second TD pass of the night, a fingertip grab just inside the pylon for a 30-6 lead.
Hattiesburg took possession and immediately turned the ball over on a fumble, which was returned 17 yards by Detorurean Crosby for a touchdown and a 37-6 lead.
Conner capped Hattiesburg’s scoring on a 13-yard TD run with 8:12 to play to cut the deficit to 23. Conner threw his third interception and the Tigers’ offense sputtered two other times down the stretch as West Jones’ fans celebrated.
In other playoff action:
It will be a Jasper County-Smith County showdown on Friday night for the Class 2A South State championship as rivals Taylorsville will battle Bay Springs with the winner playing for a state title.
Taylorsville sneaked past Collins 14-12, while Bay Springs thumped Richton 28-8.
The game is scheduled for Friday night at Taylorsville, which defeated Bay Springs earlier in the year to win the Region 5-2A crown.
In Class 1A, Stringer lost to Nanih Waiya 41-14 eliminating the Red Devils from the playoffs.