November 21, 2012 9:24:07 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
WEST POINT -- The players and coaches talk frequently about playing "West Point football."
For members of the Green Wave defense, "West Point football" can be summed up in a few words: Physical. Relentless. Dominating.
West Point plays defense well. Under coach Chris Chambless, West Point has ranked consistently with the state's top defenses. This season is no different.
Stellar defensive play is a big reason why West Point is two victories away from capturing the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship for the third time in four seasons.
Next stop on the circuit is Starkville. The longtime Golden Triangle rivals will meet at 7 Friday night in Starkville for the North State championship.
"We are going to pack their stadium out," West Point senior linebacker Antreon Bennett said. "Since it is Thanksgiving, there will be a lot of extra family members who will stay in town and go to the game. This is real exciting because it is for bragging rights throughout the Golden Triangle."
West Point earned a 47-22 victory Sept. 7 in the regular season at Starkville. To achieve a season sweep, the Green Wave defense will be asked to deliver another masterful performance.
"The thing about our defense is that it is full of playmakers," West Point senior defensive tackle Freddie Reed said. "We love each other, and we believe in one another. When you look around, you have a playmaker to your left and a playmaker to your right. It takes a lot of the pressure off when you know you are going into battle with some great players.
"On each possession you feel like someone is going to make a play."
West Point has allowed less than 12 points per game this season. Even in non-region defeats to South Panola (12-10) and Noxubee County (6-0), only one touchdown was allowed. During its nine-game winning streak, the Green Wave has only allowed 94 points. Almost half of those came in the regular season against Starkville and last week in a 56-21 second-round playoff victory against Ridgeland.
Starkville (10-3) went 7-0 in Region 2. It is riding a nine-game winning streak.
"The key to our defense is communicating," Bennett said. "We do that a lot better than other teams. In practice, we pay attention to detail. When a play is run, everybody knows their assignments. Any defense is going to get beat from time to time. It doesn't happen often with us. If the other team hits us for a play, we are going to do our best to not let it happen again."
Before the season, the Green Wave moved senior running back Tez Lane to quarterback. The Green Wave also had to shuffle some offensive lineman. The defense remained largely intact from last season.
"We knew we had to set the tone for our season," Reed said. "There was a lot of disappointment when we lost to Starkville last year (in the playoffs). That game made us work that much harder during the offseason. At West Point, the fans consider a disappointment if you don't play for the state championship. We like that pressure, and we like those expectations.
"We knew the offense might struggle early, so it was our job to pick up the slack. I think we did a really good job of giving our team a chance to win every game."
West Point (11-2) went 7-0 in Region 1. Still, the fruits of success may have been sewn in a pair of early-season defeats.
South Panola kicked a last-second field goal to win the opener. The Tigers will play Friday for the Class 6A North State title. Only a Darrell Robinson 43-yard touchdown run separated Noxubee County and West Point in the fourth week of the season. The Tigers also will play Friday for the Class 4A North State title.
"Sometimes the turning point of a season can come in a loss," Bennett said. "We learned so much about ourselves in those two games. We learned we can compete with anybody in the state. Even though we lost, it made us feel that much better about our team. We knew once the offense put it all together, we could play for a state championship.
"Defensively, we have played the best teams in the state and we have been right there. That is why we play with so much confidence. We try to play physical football. We want to hit you in the mouth and make big plays. The confidence we need to play with came from the start of the season."
Behind standout performances from Lane and fellow back Aeris Williams, the Green Wave rolled against the Yellow Jackets in the regular season. In 2011, West Point also won in the regular season, 33-12, before Starkville returned the favor with a 20-14 victory in the second round of the playoffs.
"This game is big because it is for bragging rights for the whole Golden Triangle," Reed said. "This game will stick with you the rest of year. As a senior, it will stick with you for rest of the life. We know how bad we felt after losing last year. Our No. 1 goal for Friday night is to not feel that way again."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter