Last of the 5A unbeatens West Jones, Picayune set for showdown in Soso
Last week, the West Jones Mustangs overcame their greatest challenge to date, erasing a 17-point first-half deficit for a 33-30 overtime victory over the rival Wayne County War Eagles.
The reward? An even bigger challenge. Friday night, the Mustangs will host the undefeated Picayune Maroon Tide in a battle to determine who will represent the South in this year’s 5A state championship game.
West Jones was in this same position last year as the defending 5A South champions. Despite having several of last year’s key contributors graduate, the Mustangs put together an even more impressive regular-season resumé and once again reached the state semifinals.
(Games on Friday night at 7)
Starkville (12-2) vs. Oxford (12-1)
Oak Grove (10-3) vs. Petal (12-1)
Picayune (13-0) vs. West Jones (13-0)
Neshoba Central (10-3) vs. West Point (13-1)
Poplarville (8-5) vs. Lawrence County (9-5)
Corinth (12-1) vs. Greenwood (13-0)
Jefferson Davis Co. (8-5) vs. Columbia (13-0)
Noxubee Co. (9-5) vs. Choctaw Co. (11-3)
Scott Central (11-3) vs. Taylorsville (13-1)
Charleston (10-4) vs. Northside (13-0)
Noxapater (12-2) vs. Nanih Waiya (12-2)
Richton (9-5) vs. Lumberton (11-3)
“I think our guys in the past have set great examples,” head coach Scott Pierson said. “They set the bar high, and the youngest bought in and stepped up to the task.”
Also reaching the semifinals for the second year in a row are the Mustangs’ opponents. The Tide defeated Laurel 42-28 last week to advance and earn another opportunity to beat the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. Pierson said Picayune presents an even greater threat than it did last November, now being led by the most productive running back in the state.
“That running back they’ve got, Cameron Thomas, is unbelievably good. He’s rushed for over 3,000 yards, and he’s averaging 15 yards per carry, which is just unheard of," Pierson said. "There probably haven’t been many guys in our state’s history to put up that kind of production.”
Thomas leads the state with 45 total touchdowns, rivaled only by Taylorsville quarterback Ty Keyes, who has accounted for 44 touchdowns. Last Friday against the Tornadoes, Thomas rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns — three of which were in the fourth quarter — to lead the Tide to a comeback win in their last home game of the year.
Given Thomas’ unprecedented success, Pierson said it would be unwise to assume his team can shut him down. The challenge, therefore, becomes minimizing the damage and responding with equal success by the Mustangs’ offense.
“He’s going to make plays, and we know that because he’s just that good,” Pierson said. “Our job is going to be to respond well as a team when that happens and make plays when we have opportunities.”
West Jones is 3-3 in all-time matchups with Picayune. Four of those games were in the postseason, of which the Tide has won three. Last year’s matchup ended with a 21-13 victory for the Mustangs at Picayune. The winner of Friday night’s showdown will travel to Southern Miss on Dec. 7 to take on either West Point or Neshoba Central for the 5A state title.