December 7, 2009 12:00:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The picture was one of desolation.
The 2009 season was supposed to be a coronation, a five-month love fest in which the West Point High School football team reclaimed what was rightfully something it had lost in 2005.
But Shannon High didn''t get that message, and on Aug. 21 the Red Raiders spoiled the Green Wave''s plans with an exciting 27-20 overtime victory in the season opener for both teams.
The game, played before a packed house, was filled with its share of cramping players, big plays, and promising glimpses of what was to come.
West Point, though, was left dazed after the loss. The players, confident they finally would be the group to deliver on the championship plans, walked around the field slowly after the game not sure how what had just happened occurred.
In the weeks following the loss, the West Point players talked about being "humbled" by it and how they were going to have to "re-dedicate" themselves to staying focused and playing at a high level every day in practice.
In the marathon that is a high school football season, those words often become cliche, so a shred of doubt remained about the Green Wave and whether they would be able to regroup from the setback and realize they still had what it took to realize their dreams.
West Point showed it had more than enough Saturday after it defeated Wayne County 35-14 to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A class title.
After watching the Green Wave pile up yards and blow opponents off the line, the victory wasn''t surprising. Talk on the Internet before the game posited that the Green Wave weren''t capable of beating the War Eagles in part because they hadn''t faced many, if any, challenges playing against North Half competition.
West Point proved that statement ridiculous. The Green Wave rushed for 215 yards and tacked on 136 more through the air in a dominating effort. They cashed in on big plays, delivered a stout performance, and hummed along like the machine they played like the final 14 games of the season.
The Green Wave''s performance was tidal, if you will. Driven by the legs of a running back combination of Xavier Hogan, Jacoby Lee, and Lakenderic Thomas and an offensive line of forward-thinkers, the Green Wave hit you in the mouth, pushed you back, gained 4 to 5 yards, and lined up and did it again and again and again.
Just when you thought you found the answer and stacked eight or nine in the box, quarterback Justin Cox, who proved to be a shifty runner, too, dropped back and found wide receiver Michael Carr or tight end Michael Bush for a big play that seemingly came out of nowhere.
The defense was equally devastating. Playing with a cold, attacking mind-set, the Green Wave blitzed and swarmed to the football. Their mission, just like the goal of their offense, was simple: Limit your time to make a play.
Few opponents found ways to solve that equation. Some, like Oxford and New Hope, in its second meeting, had stretches where it moved the football, but West Point''s defense always came through with a stop.
Saturday offered a repeat. After Wayne County scored on its second possession to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter, some might have thought a close game was going to follow. But remember two West Point penalties aided the scoring drive, and once the Green Wave corrected their mistakes they were on their way.
"When they did get that (touchdown) drive it was on our mistakes and they capitalized like they are supposed to do," senior defensive lineman Curtis Virges said. "We weren''t going to let that happen again."
Virges led a powerful defensive line that flowed to the football in every direction. It hit hard and took pride in the fact that it was just as deliberate and deadly as the offense.
Wrap it up and you found your wish list complete. There was a sixth state title for a program that is synonymous with black and blue football.
Hogan, one of two running backs this season to suffer knee injuries, summed it up perfectly after the title game that West Point has "copyrighted" its brand of football and that it plays it like no other team in the state.
West Point coach Chris Chambless said the Green Wave also have something else that makes them special.
"My coaching staff is one of the best in the state of Mississippi," Chambless said. "I try to hold the team together and make a few suggestions every now and then, but my coaches do a great job coaching. We''re fortunate to have these guys. I think this is the first year we had that nobody left and I got to add somebody -- Brett Morgan -- so that helped us with our wide receivers and our wide receiver play, and it showed.
"Lee J. Grisham does a good job (as offensive coordinator), and I don''t have to worry about the offense. I really don''t have to worry about the defense, and that is what I like. I probably say more than I should, but the other coaches treat me good and they act like they listen, and that makes me happy."
The Green Wave celebrated Saturday like gorillas had just been lifted from their backs. Hogan used those words when asked how it felt to win a state title after so much dreaming and planning.
Virges admitted the Green Wave had their share of "slip-ups and mistakes" during the season, but that it was "amazing" to be part of a championship team.
Carr, though, the big-play maker who had a touchdown catch and returned a kick for another score, said it best, "The green and white is family. We became a family, not just the team, but a family. When you become a family you can''t be stopped."
It was a fitting ending to an evening in which West Point played hard and fast, controlled the line of scrimmage, held on to the football, and, true to its method of operation all season did whatever it had to do to win.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.