Pierson post game Hattiesburg

West Jones coach Scott Pierson talks to his team following a victory over Hattiesburg. (Photo by Guru Nichols)

After beatdown of top-ranked Hattiesburg, Mustangs hope sixth time is the charm

West Jones stunned the state with its win over the top-ranked team in all classifications in the third round of the 5A playoffs last week.

Now they Mustangs will try to avoid a Hattiesburg hangover when they go to Picayune on Friday night with a trip to the state championship on the line. It will be the sixth time coach Scott Pierson’s ’Stangs have played for a South State title. They’ve fallen short the previous five times.

“I’m tired of bumping my head at South State,” Pierson told his players after the shocker at Hattiesburg. “I want to go to The Rock.”

M.M. Roberts Stadium at Southern Miss is hosting the state championship games this season.

But like most coaches, Pierson doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. First, his team has to get past a rugged Picayune team. The winner will go to the 5A title game to face Olive Branch or West Point, the later of which has won back-to-back state championships.

The South State contest is an intriguing matchup — Picayune’s ground-and-pound offense vs. the Mustangs’ menacing, dominant defense.

Their front four, led by Alabama commit Byron Young and Damion “Big Country” Cunningham, have spent a lot of time in their opponents’ backfield this season. With a team total of 100 tackles for losses on the season, they’re almost as likely to take a handoff as a ball carrier. They have almost as many sacks (47.5) as team touchdowns (50) on the season.

They’ll be facing the most productive running back in the state, Jortin Raine, who has racked up 2,749 yards and 18 TDs on 326 carries behind a line that paves the way for 374 rushing yards per game. The Tide attempts fewer than four passes per game.

The Mustangs rely on sophomore quarterback Alan Follis, who has passed for 14 scores and run for five, and junior running backs Jasper Jones (7 TDs) and Micheal Neal (4 TDs). The team averages 134 yards on the ground and 143 in the air.

The Maroon Tide (11-3) ran over Laurel, 41-22, to advance to the title game. The Tornadoes handed the Mustangs (11-2) their only region loss of the season back in October, 23-17. Picayune also bowled over Wayne County 60-33, a month after West Jones lost to its rival 10-6 in the opener.

But since then, the ’Stangs have been almost unstoppable … mostly because of their stop squad and an efficient, balanced offense. They’ve pitched five shutouts, allowing only 8.5 points per game, and managed to score 30 per outing.

While the sidelines at Laurel were abuzz with scoring updates last week, as West led previously undefeated Hattiesburg from start to finish, longtime Picayune coach Dodd Lee didn’t express any surprise about the upset. The Tigers are one of only three teams to beat his squad this season. The Tide’s other losses were to D’Iberville and Gulfport.

“We don’t care who we play,” Lee said. “I’m just glad the kids have the opportunity to play another one.”

West Jones and Picayune have met four times in the postseason and are 2-2. Picayune won the last meeting, 48-14, in the first round of the playoffs in 2013. That year, the Tide went on to win their third state title.

The Mustangs, on the other hand, have run into buzzsaws from Brookhaven and Wayne County each time they’ve made it to the cusp of the title game.

West Jones has reeled off five wins in a row since the overtime loss at Laurel. One more win, and they’ll roll into The Rock with a chance to make school history. The Mustangs are the only team in Jones County to never win a state championship in football.

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