West Point High School senior quarterback Marcus Murphy breaks away from the Starkville High School defense en route to one of his three touchdowns last week in a 28-3 victory in West Point. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
September 6, 2017 11:43:52 AM
The quest for a repeat state championship is a fascinating challenge.
Whether the school is a traditional power or a newcomer to championship honors, it seems like each one takes a different path when trying to win a second-straight state championship.
To the casual observer, one would think that is the time some players back off the gas. They have achieved the top rank in their sport, so it is time to rest on those laurels and enjoy the championship because it is such a challenge to win any title.
Instead, the first championship usually fuels the fire. State championship teams typically have returning players more determined than to win a championship. The prestige of winning back-to-back championships helps set a particular senior class apart at some schools.
While the first one was fun ... the second one becomes even better.
That's the goal the West Point football team will try to realize this season.
West Point has won eight championships. The last one came last year, when it won its final 13 games and the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State championship.
The desire to get back on top had been burning for some time in Clay County. West Point had last won a championship in 2010. Granted, the 2012 squad lost in overtime in the North State championship game to Starkville and most likely would have cruised (like Starkville did) a week later in that state championship game.
A year ago, West Point began the season with nine juniors starting on defense. On offense, a transfer quarterback (Clayton Knight) joined Marcus Murphy and Chris Calvert, the state's best 1-2 running back punch.
There will never be any questions about coaching. Chris Chambless is one of the state's best, and his staff is full of former head coaches and others who have coached in plenty of big games. When packed, Hamblin Stadium is one of the toughest places in the state to play.
A year ago, West Point had championship aspirations. Most prognosticators had Oxford reloading, which was a good sign for West Point.
After struggling the first four weeks of the season, the defense found its legs. Knight gave West Point a passing dimension that was missing in 2015. Murphy took on a heavier rushing load after Calvert missed half the season due to injury.
The team kept improving. Some of the elite offenses in Class 5A were silenced. West Point allowed three touchdowns in four playoff wins and cruised to the state crown by an average margin of 32.5 points per playoff win.
Is 2017 slated to be an encore?
It appears West Point might be even better this season.
It was interesting to watch Noxubee County as it went about repeating in Class 4A. It hadn't been done before in that classification and the 2015 squad went about late-season business like their livelihood depended on every win.
Noxubee County won 14 games and a championship in 2014. A year later, the team worked through issues in a 2-4 start but won the last 10 and repeated as champions.
West Point appears ready to follow that blueprint. The Green Wave want this championship badly, perhaps more than 2016.
On offense, Murphy has moved back to quarterback. He could also finish as the state's best rusher.
A Mississippi State commitment, coaches have told Murphy he will play defense on the next level. It appears he plans to put enough offensive highlights on video to give him a case to argue for a chance to go both ways.
Calvert is back after playing only six games a year ago because of concussion-like symptoms. He has started the year on fire, running with reckless abandonment.
The offensive line is good, extremely under-valued. At 6-foot-3, Jason Brownlee gives Murphy a tall pass-catching target with good hands and good speed.
On defense, you could see as many as nine or 10 players move on to the next level. The speed of the defense is one thing. The physical ability is another.
What is striking about the West Point defensive players is that they are soft-spoken, down-to-earth. You never would expect them to be as dominating as they have shown they can be. A 48-minute battle with this squad isn't for the faint of heart.
You can ask Columbus, Louisville, and Starkville. Those victims have gone down by a combined score of 98-24. Columbus scored two of the touchdowns against reserves in the second half.
Noxubee County will present another non-region challenge. The Class 5A, Region 1 race isn't expected to feature much drama.
West Point is locked and loaded. They are determined, and to borrow a phrase echoed by multiple players Friday night "hungrier than a year ago."
On a statewide call-in show Friday night, a reporter said, "You can't crown a champion after three weeks."
In this case, you probably can.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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