November 25, 2012 12:58:35 AM
STARKVILLE -- When Tez Lane was a youngster, he dreamed about wearing the West Point High School football uniform.
"I grew up in West Point," said Lane, a senior quarterback for the Green Wave. "Ever since I was little this has been my team. I couldn't wait to be old enough to play. Then seventh grade came and I felt like I was in the big time. It has been incredible run. I really can't believe it is over."
Lane and his teammates experienced a heart-breaking end to their season Friday night. West Point saw leads slip away in the fourth quarter and overtime in a 29-28 loss to Starkville in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State championship game.
Starkville (11-3) will play Pascagoula (11-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Class 5A State championship in Jackson. West Point (11-3) saw a second-straight playoff run end with a loss to Starkville.
"This is really hard," West Point senior nose guard Antonio Dent said. "When you pull tires all of those days during the offseason, this is why you do it. You do it to play for state championships. It is sad when that doesn't happen. You work so hard and you do everything you are supposed to do. Then it doesn't happen.
"I will remember playing with these guys for the rest of my life. Hopefully, the younger guys learned something from us seniors. We gave it all we had."
West Point won Class 5A state titles in 2009 and 2010. Last season, the Green Wave had atypical struggles and finished 8-5. In the 2011 finale, the Green Wave committed two critical turnovers.
On Friday, there were no such explanations.
The Green Wave battled back from a 14-0 deficit. Junior running back Aeris Williams was his normal flashy self with four touchdowns, including an 18-yard reception from Lane. West Point didn't commit a turnover and only had five penalties.
"Two heavyweight teams played their hearts out tonight," West Point coach Chris Chambless said. "The kids hurt because they put so much into this season. When you look back, there is always something you could have done differently. I am not sure tonight what that would be."
The hard work for 2012 began soon after the loss to Starkville. A standout running back as a junior, Lane was asked to move to quarterback.
"I wasn't sure at first," Lane said. "But I took the new position as a challenge. I was going to do whatever it took to help my team. Playing quarterback, I knew I had to be the emotional leader of this team. I knew I had to keep everybody motivated on the task at hand.
"I feel like I was a good leader. I really hope my teammates would say I was. I am hoping the seniors taught the younger guys something this year. I hope the younger guys now know how we play West Point football. I hope they take pride in what they are doing next year and they can get themselves back to Jackson."
With Lane under center, the Green Wave experienced growing pains. West Point went 2-2 in non-region play, with losses to Class 6A North State champion South Panola and Class 4A North State champion Noxubee County.
"We got better and better during the year," West Point senior linebacker Antreon Bennett said. "We had all the confidence in the world in Tez. He was a great a leader. Once the offense found its rhythm, we became a really dangerous team."
West Point became dangerous, rolling through Region 1 with seven-straight victories. In the postseason, West Point defeated Canton and Ridgeland.
Lane rushed for four touchdowns and threw another against Ridgeland. As his confidence grew, so did the playbook. Not known to pass regularly, West Point opened the offense up more and found Lane able to deliver.
"I know a lot of people had high expectations for this football team," Lane said. "Nobody had higher expectations than me. It was a great experience going to battle with these guys each and every Friday night."
In its 47-22 regular-season victory against Starkville, West Point unleashed its potent rushing attack. The Green Wave scored four second-half touchdowns to cruise to the victory.
In the rematch, though, neither team cruised. The Green Wave worked back from a 14-0 deficit to take its first lead with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left in regulation on 2-yard run by Williams.
Typically, this would have been where West Point's nine-game winning streak moved to 10.
Instead, Starkville answered. A 16-yard run by Darius Grayer tied the game a little more than three minutes later.
"The game was so full of momentum shifts," Chambless said. "It is what you expected going in."
Starkville then appeared ready to hoist the trophy until a 24-yard field goal in the waning seconds of regulation missed the mark.
West Point grabbed its last lead on a 10-yard run by Williams on the first snap of overtime. Lane ran 18 times for 131 yards, while Williams had 29 rushes for 108 yards.
"We were in a position and then it got away," Dent said. "I am still not really sure what happened. Starkville is really good. Gabe (Myles) made some great plays."
Myles hit Kentrell Spencer with a 15-yard pass on fourth down touchdown to keep the Yellow Jackets alive. Myles kept the ball for the conversion run that ended West Point season's and Lane's prep career.
"There is no other place in America I would rather have played ball," said Lane, who was a part of the 2010 Class 5A championship team. "This is what I have always wanted to do: play football at West Point. Even though it is over, it has been everything I thought it would be. Tonight hurts, but overall we had an incredible time."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter