September 30, 2012 1:49:12 AM
MABEN - The West Oktibbeha County High School football team doesn't get smacked in the mouth much, but when it does, it's usually the offense that helps the team overcome adversity.
On Friday, it was senior defensive linemen Michael Graise and Johnny Chambers who led the charge in a 46-24 win against Sebastopol High.
Graise, a defensive end, recorded his second career interception while Chambers scored his first career touchdown on an 8-yard fumble return that put the Timberwolves (5-1, 3-0 Mississippi High School Athletic Association Class 1A Region 3) up 28-8 in the third. Both plays led to West Oktibbeha scores, especially critical since the Timberwolves' usually potent passing game stalled in the second half.
Graise, who said he'd dropped three interceptions this season, tipped a Cody Shaw pass near the line of scrimmage and out-jumped the quarterback's attempt to knock the ball down.
"When we called the pinch, I knew they were going to pass it," Graise said. "So after I batted it, I knew I had to come down with it."
West Oktibbeha forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, one of which was returned for a score by senior Von Smith. Graise and Chambers made numerous stops in the backfield.
However, the same Sebastopol (2-4, 1-3 1A-3) squad that impressed West Oktibbeha coach Adam Lowrey landed punch after punch with its power rushing attack.
Utilizing everything from counters to toss sweeps, Sebastopol running back Colton Tharp ran for 158 yards on 24 carries. Tharp also threw a 54-yard touchdown on halfback pass to cut West Oktibbeha's lead to 28-16 in the third quarter.
"They've got a lot of heart," Lowrey said. "No. 3 (Colton Tharp), that little ole kid's got a lot of heart. And he runs hard. I saw him on film and I knew he was good."
By the third quarter, the Timberwolves were noticeably gassed and giving up chunks of yards on the ground and through the air. But when plays needed to be made, Graise and Chambers' pressure helped force Shaw's three picks and come up with a pair of stuffs on fourth down.
"It was tough," Chambers said. "But we had to keep our head in the game and the mentality that we'll make just as many plays as they do."
West Oktibbeha looked like it would turn the matchup into a blowout, much like its previous four win that resulted in an average victory margin of 47 points. Smith had three first quarter scores; including a 63-yard pass to Levante Tate on the first play of the game to take a 22-0 lead into the second.
But Smith threw a pair of picks and Sebastopol gained traction through a 15-play scoring drive in which every play was a run. Sebastopol was slowed, however, at the start of the third when two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties resulted in its coach, Jason Greene, getting tossed from the game. Two plays later, Chambers notched his fumble return touchdown for a 28-8 lead.
West Oktibbeha is third in Region 1A-3 and will play host to Ethel next week.