November 17, 2013 1:26:00 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
PEARL -- In one corner of the playing surface of Ray Rogers Stadium, West Point High School junior quarterback Josh Ewing was being consoled by friends and family.
About 20 yards away, senior running back Aeris Williams was with another group that was trying to help him feel better.
The pain was real for both as one of the state's premier football programs had seen its latest season end.
Ewing discussed next year. He talked about a dedication to the commitment. He said his team needs to play better and return to the state's elite. For Williams, his career path moves to the next level.
West Point couldn't overcome three turnovers, two muffed kicks, and five critical holding penalties in a 33-20 loss to Pearl in an opening-round game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A North State playoffs.
Pearl (11-2) will play at Oxford (12-0) in the second round of the playoffs, while West Point finishes 7-5.
Considering by many as one of the favorites for the Class 5A state championships, things never fell into place for West Point. Early season injuries devastated a secondary that was a cause for concern throughout the season.
Still, West Point fought as it always does under coach Chris Chambless. West Point won its final five region games to secure a playoff berth. Still, early season region losses to Oxford and Clarksdale meant West Point traveled to open the playoffs.
"We had a difficult challenge, but the kids really competed," Chambless said. "You can look at a series of plays where the game got away from us. We had turnovers that hurt. We had some holding penalties that hurt.
"The kids competed and played hard. They did that the entire season. We will miss the seniors for what they meant to the program."
Williams will be missed. Set for a bright future in the backfield at Mississippi State, Williams capped his 2,000-yard rushing season with 161 additional rushing yards, 33 more receiving yards and three more touchdowns.
"This was an incredible experience," Williams said. "The coaches made me the player I became. I owe everything to them. It was a great run."
Williams capped the first scoring drive with a 15-yard run. Many expected an offensive shootout and it appeared the game was headed in that direction. During its five-game winning streak, West Point averaged just less than 55 points per game.
West Point went on the attack again and appeared ready to extend the lead. A holding penalty wiped out a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Omar Lemus eventually missed a 38-yard field goal. Lemus was roughed but no call was made.
Still down 7-0, Pearl took the momentum and scored twice in the final 4 minutes, 59 seconds of the half. A recovered onsides kick after the first touchdown set up the second touchdown.
"The two quick strikes really hurt us," Chambless said. "It was a lot closer game than the score indicates. They took the momentum from us in the second quarter and we never really got it back. They took us out of element and we were having to do some things that we are not comfortable doing."
Pearl kicked field goals on its first two possessions of the second half. West Point, which had shown so much balance during its winning streak, faced a defense with enough speed to stop anything not wearing No. 22 (Williams).
"We really have to have balance to do what we want to do on offense," Williams said. "We had some really good drives, but the penalties hurt us."
Chambless said his squad couldn't finish its scoring opportunities. West Point ran 21 more plays than Pearl. However, the combination of interceptions and holding penalties proved lethal.
Trailing 33-7, West Point rallied, as Williams caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Ewing. After West Point recovered an onsides kick, he capped his prep career with a 1-yard touchdown run.
"I think what does not need to be the lost is the fact that these seniors were great men of character," Chambless said. "They meant a lot to our football program. They meant a lot to me. That is what hurts us so bad. The game is about finishing. You have to close the deal, and we weren't able to do that."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter