PICAYUNE — Some West Jones fans weren’t there for kickoff because of a big wreck on I-59, but they were there for the celebration. And what a celebration it was. The Mustangs beat Picayune 21-13 for the Class 5A South State championship to punch their ticket to the state title game at The Rock.
“It’s been a long journey,” WJ coach Scott Pierson said after an uncharacteristically emotional postgame speech to players and fans.
The Mustangs had come up short in six previous trips to the state semifinals in Pierson’s 17 years with the program.
As has been the case all year, someone stepped up on offense to lead West Jones. Kentrell Pruitt ran for two touchdowns and quarterback Alan Follis ran for the other, then the ’Stangs’ defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter to hold on for the win.
The Maroon Tide moved to midfield with no timeouts and the clock ticking, needing a TD and a two-point conversion, when WJ needed one more stop for the win. On fourth down, Alabama commit Byron Young broke through the stout Tide line and ran down quarterback Jakail Myers to set off a celebration on the WJ sideline and stands.
“I was thinking I had to do something for my team,” Young said.
The Mustangs struck first when Follis scrambled 30 yards for a score midway through the first quarter, then Pruitt scored from 2 yards out on the first play of the second quarter. Walker Thompson’s second PAT made it 14-0 in favor of the visiting Mustangs.
Picayune picked it up after that. Running back Jortin Raine — the leading rusher in the state — scored from 3 yards out with just under 4 minutes to go in the half.
The Mustangs put together another drive and made it to the Tide 1-yard line, but an interception ended that threat. It was the second time that a Picayune pick at the 1 stopped the ’Stangs.
“I was frustrated, because we’re better than that,” Pierson said. “But I think I was the only one that was mad. The kids keep saying, ‘We’re going to be OK.’”
And the kids were right.
Picayune put together a drive in the third quarter and scored on a rare pass on an even rarer razzle-dazzle play. Raine tossed a 28-yard TD halfback pass to Kaleb Hart to pull the home team within a point with 3:37 to go in the third quarter. But Isaac Brice’s PAT attempt struck the right upright and West Jones help on to a 14-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“It was a game full of momentum changes,” Picayune coach Dodd Lee said.
After the teams traded punts and punches, the Mustangs put together a seven-play, 66-yard drive that was capped by Pruitt’s 3-yard score and Thompson’s kick with 1:15 remaining. Tajrick Randolph’s 32-yard catch and run, fighting through defenders to the Picayune 28-yard line, highlighted the game-sealing drive.
Follis was 17-for-27 with 197 yards and two interception, both of which were a yard short of TDs. The sophomore signal caller had 10 carries for 64 yards to lead all Wj runners, too. Pruitt had 13 carries for 44 yards and two TDs. Randolph had four catches for 76 yards and Antonie Kirk had six catches for 77 yards.
It was Pierson’s 200th win.
The Mustangs (12-2) are scheduled to play two-time defending Class 5A state champion West Point (13-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, at M.M. Roberts Stadium at Southern Miss in Hattiesburg.