November 29, 2009 12:19:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The game plan is simple.
On one side of the football, the West Point High School football team lines up, fires off the line of scrimmage, and dares you to stand in its way.
Its style of play is its brand: West Point football.
On the other side, the Green Wave delight in bringing pressure and flooding to the ball to stop any and all playmakers.
The strategy is straight-forward -- old school, if you will -- but it has helped West Point control games and dominate opponents.
On Friday, old school football was more than effective to push the Green Wave back to a familiar destination.
Justin Cox rushed for three touchdowns, passed for another, and guided a rushing attack that piled up more than 300 yards to lead West Point to a 41-21 victory against New Hope in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State title game at Trojan Field.
The victory moves West Point (13-1) into the state title game against Wayne County (11-3), which defeated Moss Point 32-28 on Friday, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi Memorial Coliseum.
The Green Wave will shoot for their first state title since 2005, when they beat Wayne County 17-15 for the school''s fifth state crown.
"It is justice right now," West Point High coach Chris Chambless said. "It feels good, but we have some unfinished business to do. Just getting there is special to us, but we don''t want to just get there. We want to win it."
West Point will represent the North thanks to a black, blue, and green running game that piled up 345 yards on 37 carries. The Green Wave didn''t attempt a pass in the second half and used touchdown runs of 91 yards by Cox, 38 yards by Lakenderic Thomas, and 8 yards by Xavier Hogan to stay one step ahead of the upset-minded Trojans, who finished the best season in school history at 11-2.
"We played hard all year long," New Hope coach Michael Bradley said. "We are a very resilient bunch, and we didn''t quit tonight. We just came up against a better football team. Hats off to West Point. They have a real good ballclub and they should have a chance to win the state championship next week."
Bradley admitted the Trojans would have had to played a "near-pefect ballgame" to advance to play for the school''s first state title in football. Although New Hope threw for 157 yards and moved the ball well at times, the Green Wave always made the plays that kept them in front.
A bruising performance by the Green Wave offensive line and a stable of running backs that includes mainstays Hogan, Thomas, and Jacoby Lee also proved too difficult to control.
"They fire off the ball and they hit you in the mouth," New Hope senior defensive lineman Seth Stillman said. "They run block like champs. You couldn''t find a better run blocking offensive line. They fire off the ball and they hit you in the mouth every time. ... They point at you and they say, ''I have got 40. I have got 55,'' and then they go hit you and that is the end of it.
"They do what they do but they execute. They fire off the football. It all starts with their offensive line."
Cox, a junior in his first year as starter, provided the spark when needed. Trailing 21-7, New Hope failed to capitalize on two 15-yard personal foul penalties at the start of the third quarter and pooch punted the ball back to West Point. Zak Thrasher''s punt pinned the Green Wave at their 6 with 10 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the quarter. Facing a third-and-7 from the 9, Cox took a keeper and watched the flow of play go to the right. Seeing an opening, he scooted to the left and raced 91 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown.
"We had the game plan, we had it all picked out, and the cutback lane was open all night, and they hit it all night," Stillman said. "They did what they do. They run up the middle, and they came in here and they said they were going to do it, and they did. It hurts, but I thought we shut down their up-the-middle run pretty well. They just had a cutback lane and we weren''t wrapping up. That has been a problem with our defense. We have struggled with that the past two weeks."
Terrance Dentry (17 carries, 62 yards) kept New Hope in the game on the next drive when he capped a 13-play possession with a 12-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal. Tanner Ryals'' kick made it 28-14 with 2:36 to play in the quarter.
But West Point had an answer
Cox (seven-137) converted a fourth-and-2 to help West Point keep the ball into the fourth quarter. Thomas (13-132) then went into the hole and bounced the football outside en route to a 38-yard touchdown run. Kwame Williams'' extra point gave the Green Wave a 35-14 lead.
New Hope gained one first down on its next drive, but the Green Wave allowed zero, -4 and -6 yards on the next three plays to force a punt.
West Point took advantage, using Hogan, a senior playing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, on five of the six plays on the next drive. He capped his 35-yard effort with an 8-yard touchdown burst that all but wrapped up the North Half State title.
"The last drive was a dagger," Hogan said. "We needed that. That''s why they gave me the ball. I see myself as a leader. I have their back and whenever they need me I am here. I am their Mr. Reliable. I may not break 1,000 yards rushing, but I have got them whenever they need me."
New Hope added a 1-yard run by Thrasher with 2:08 to play. The score came following a delay in the action after an ambulance had to be called to take Dentry from the field. The junior running back took a late hit out of bounds and remained motionless on the ground for several minutes. He gave a thumbs up sign to his teammates and to the New Hope crowd as he was carted off.
The injury and the loss dampened the excitement surrounding New Hopes season, but Bradley praised his players for their effort and the Green Wave for their play this season. West Point beat New Hope 35-8 on Oct. 2 to help it win the Region 1, District 2 title.
"I thought we played fairly well," Bradley said. "We had three or four drives where we moved the ball into the red zone or close to the red zone and came away with no points. You can''t do that against a good team like West Point. We got the interception on the first play of the ballgame and moved it down close and we got nothing. You have to cash in on those opportunities."
"Every time we would get within that one play, as you said, they''d make it. That''s what a good ballclub does, and give them credit. A lot of the mistakes we made were because of their pressure."
Chambless had plenty of compliments for New Hope and his players, too. The fourth-year coach, who took over at West Point the season after the 2005 state title, hopes the Green Wave can continue a playoff run that has seen them defeat three opponents by an average of 28 points per game.
"Coach Bradley has done an excellent job," Chambless said. "I told him after the game what he has done at New Hope is unbelievable. I can''t say enough about the job he has done. It has amazed me and a lot of other coaches around the state the job he has done and to get the athletes out. He has done an excellent job.
"We work extremely hard in practice. We block our ones in practice. It makes our ones go a lot better. Football games are won in the trenches. When you can come out and do stuff like that and run the football it helps establish the tone. That is what we want to do every week."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.