August 30, 2013 11:35:10 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
BATESVILLE -- If someone who had never seen a football game just happened to be at South Panola High School on Thursday, they still would have noticed two special tailbacks.
South Panola High's Darrell Henderson and West Point High's Aeris Williams combined for 10 touchdowns in a back-and-forth thriller between two of the state of Mississippi's traditional powers.
Henderson, who said after the game he had "screwed up pretty bad" last week, proved he belonged in the same category with Williams, a Mississippi State University verbal commitment, in a 55-33 victory. The 5-foot-9 junior had 18 carries for 184 yards on 18 carries and six touchdowns (four rushing, a 5-yard touchdown pass from Rip Kirk, and a 65-yard kickoff return).
"Once I got the first touchdown, I knew I could break free all night because my offensive line created big holes against a physical West Point team," Henderson said.
Henderson showed his explosiveness by touching the ball four times and scoring three touchdowns and going for a first down.
As well as Henderson played, South Panola coach Lance Pogue praised Williams, West Point's senior workhorse.
"Aeris Williams is the best running back I've faced in my 21 years of coaching football, and I just think in a career night, my guy showed he's a playmaker, too," Pogue said. "Henderson is so dynamic and dangerous with the ball in his hands, and we had to just smarten up as coaches and make sure he got the football."
Williams, arguably the most heralded senior running back in the state, simply ran through a nine-man front en route to a 31-carry, 181-yard performance. He had touchdown runs of 50, 38, 5, and 1 yards.
"I'm so proud of my offensive line and whole team for not giving up and fighting with a lot of heart and courage," Williams said. "When I produce big runs, it's a team effort of guys up front doing their job. If we continue to pay hard and get better, we'll be really tough later in the season."
In the second half, West Point coach Chris Chambless tried to rally the Green Wave by lining Williams up in the Wildcat formation so he could take the snap.
"I don't like running him as much as I did tonight because we have a season to play, and I can't do that to him much more this season," Chambless said. "He's a warrior for us, though, and we know we can always make plays when he has the football."
Williams had 114 yards in a second half that saw West Point (0-1) score on back-to-back drives to cut its deficit to 41-33 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining. In the fourth quarter, Williams touched the ball 11 of 15 times and gained positive yardage on every play.
"I don't see it as I'm taking over a game or I'm taking this team on my back," Williams said. "I see it as 11 guys doing their job better than we had all night. When it was 41-33, if we could've gotten the ball back again, I believe we would've scored."
But a fatigued West Point defense couldn't stop Henderson from scampering 68 yards for a touchdown on the Tigers' next offensive play to end West Point's chances.
"We wanted to throw it early and try to get their big people moving side to side so we could wear them down in the second half," said Pogue, whose Mississippi High School Activities Association defending Class 6A champions improved to 2-0.
Henderson said he took the matchup between South Panola's rushing attack and West Point's defensive front personally.
"I didn't care for people saying they were so big and physical and they would overpower us," Henderson said. "My teammates and I needed to come out and punch them in the mouth, and that's exactly what we did."
After the game started with six-straight possessions that produced one first down, South Panola put up its highest point total since beating Tupelo 56-14 on Oct. 14, 2011. Chambless addressed his team's defensive effort after the game, saying he wasn't concerned with the late scores the host Tigers tacked on.
"Everybody is going to freak out about the points given up and jump off the bandwagon, but I believe in these kids and stick with us folks," Chambless said. "I saw a lot of positives out of tonight's performance, the most encouraging being our team never quit."
West Point, which lost its third-straight season opener to South Panola, will play host to Starkville next week. South Panola will play at Meridian next week.
FollowMatt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.