HATTIESBURG — West Jones’ first appearance in the Class 5A state football championship, a 27-12 loss to West Point, can be summed up by close calls and missed opportunities.
The biggest of which came in the fourth quarter with the three-time defending state champion West Point Green Wave (14-1) holding a 20-12 lead with the ball deep in their own territory.
Green Wave punter Jose Lemus took the long snap and West Jones defender Detorurean Crosby blocked the would-be punt giving the Mustangs possession of the ball in West Point territory with more than nine minutes left in the game.
The Mustangs drove to the 18 yard line as a raucus West Jones crowd, which filled up the entire lower deck of the visitor’s side of M.M. Roberts Stadium shouted in unison.
Coach Scott Pierson called an out and up play, where the wide receiver runs an out pattern before turning up the field. The play is predicated on the defensive back biting.
Ryan Melton didn’t bite and snagged Alan Follis’ pass from the breezy Hub City air taking the momentum — and West Jones’ chance at a championship — with it.
“The receiver ran a double move and I didn’t bite,” Melton told Mississippitoday.org. “The quarterback threw it high and I went up and got it at the highest point, which is the way they teach us. That pick was huge.”
The Green Wave proceeded to march and chew seven minutes off the clock and capped the drive with a 5-yard Brandon Harris touchdown run to up the lead to 27-12.
“They put a championship drive right there on the pick and went 90 yards to put it away and that is what championship teams do,” Pierson said.
After the game, Melton and Pierson, who has coached West Jones for 17 years and won his 200th career game in capturing the South State championship over Picayune, talked for several minutes — including about that play.
“(Melton) made a great play,” Pierson said. “He had been pressing us all night, so we tried a double move on him and he didn’t bite. It was a great call, but the kid made a play.”
West Jones was making its first appearance in a state championship football game and behind the big crowd took the lead early on the first of two Walker Thompson field goals — a 46-yarder to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Harris, who led all rushers with 124 yards on 23 carries, three a 25-yard scoring pass to Treddis Anderson as West Point took a 7-3 lead with 3:17 to play in the first quarter.
West Jones was forced to punt on its next possession Melton blocked the kick and returned it 25 yards for another score and West Point opened up a 14-3 lead.
Thompson got the Mustangs to within eight points with his second field goal — a 37-yarder — three minutes into the second quarter. But West Point, who won its 10th state championship, scored on a Jaylun Eggerson 2-yard run two minutes later to open up a 20-6 lead at halftime.
Mustang faithful believed in the second half when defensive back Kendorian Russell intercepted a pass from Jake Chambless on the Green Wave’s first possession of the second half and the Mustangs responded quickly.
Alan Follis, a sophomore quarterback who hurt opponents with both his feet and his right arm this season, connected with wide receiver Antonie Kirk on a 61-yard touchdown pass — a one-play drive that took 12 seconds and set the Mustang faithful into an uproar.
The extra point was missed, but West Jones still trailed by only a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
The teams played to a stalemate until the crushing interception that set up West Point’s final touchdown.
Follis completed 11 of 27 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown and also had 36 yards rushing on 15 carries. Jasper Jones led West Jones with 50 yards rushing and the team managed only 119 total rushing yards.
“We struggled running the ball and had to score by throwing it,” Pierson said.
Kirk led all receiver with 88 yards on five catches and Tajrick Randolph caught five passes for 57 yards.
West Point rushed for 240 yards as a team and scored more points that any other West Jones’ opponent this year. The Mustangs came into the game allowing less than nine points per game.
“The community support and the amount of people that came down here to watch this game is unbelievable,” Pierson said. “I just wish we could have given them the gold ball. We just came up short. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It wasn’t a lack of want to. You wish you could go back and fix it for next week but that is not the way it works.
“… I know (our players are) crushed because we have been on such a dynamic run and have found ways to win. Tonight we just weren’t the better team.”
The West Jones loss was the fifth loss in the state championships this season from teams from the South. Only Nanih Waiya, which plays in a South region but is located in Louisville, won a gold ball for a team from the South.