November 9, 2012 9:18:57 AM
After winning back-to-back state championships, the West Point High School football team saw its season end abruptly in the second round of the playoffs last season.
West Point will look to make amends for that defeat at 7 tonight when it plays host to Canton in a first-round Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoff game at McCallister Field.
"Losing in the playoffs last year really hurt," West Point junior running back Aeris Williams said. "That loss provided the motivation for the entire offseason. Around here, people expect you to play for state championships. We don't want to disappoint our fans for a second year in a row."
West Point dropped a 20-14 decision to Starkville in the second round of the playoffs last season. Starkville used that victory and two others to advance to the state championship game. Those teams could figure prominently into the playoff equation this season. West Point won the Region 1 championship, while Starkville won the Region 2 title.
"We have had some really great games with Starkville the last couple of years," West Point coach Chris Chambless said. "However, you can't look ahead in the playoffs. Each team in the playoffs deserves to be there. They have won the necessary games to be there. The challenge is you want to play your best each of the next four weekends."
While a potential rematch against Starkville would be Nov. 23 in the North State finals, first things are first. West Point's attention is focused squarely on Canton. The Tigers finished fourth in Region 2.
"Like it is every week, our main concern is about ourselves," Chambless said. "We want to work each day to become a better football team. We feel like we have a chance anytime that we play to our potential and do not make mistakes. Our goal is to practice well all week and come out ready to play."
West Point (9-2, 7-0 Region 1) comes in riding a seven-game winning streak. It dropped non-region games to Class 6A favorite South Panola (12-10) and Class 4A Noxubee County (6-0).
"We made some mistakes on offense and that kept us winning each of those games," West Point senior quarterback Tez Lane said. "The one thing about this team is that we bounce back from adversity. When we started region play, we set the goal to be undefeated. We did a good job in reaching that goal."
West Point closed a perfect run through region play last Friday with a 38-7 victory against New Hope. Other than a 23-17 victory against Lake Cormorant, the other six region victories were by two touchdowns or more. The region winning streak also included a 35-21 victory at home against Oxford.
Oxford is on Starkville's side of the bracket, so the Green Wave wouldn't see the Chargers or the Yellow Jackets until the North State finals. A second-round pairing would be against Ridgeland or Center Hill.
"We are always looking forward to the new challenge each Friday night," Lane said. "Our focus has been good this year. Coach always talks us about starting fast. We have been able to do that in almost all games this season."
Lane leads the Green Wave with 981 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Williams has rushed for 780 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a team, West Point has 2,228 yards and 19 touchdowns. Lane is 38 of 101 for 410 yards with one touchdown.
Canton (5-6, 3-4 Region 2) secured its playoff berth with a 45-8 victory against Lanier last week in the regular-season finale. The Tigers went 5-6 in 2011 and failed to make the playoffs.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter