West Point senior wide receiver Jason Brownlee (1) keeps an eye on the trophy, which is being held by coach Chris Chambless. Photo by: Stan Beall/Special to The Dispatch
December 2, 2017 11:22:13 PM
OXFORD -- Xavier Fair has played a lot of "spy" since his junior season.
No, we're not talking about the board game "Stratego," in which opponents move pieces around on a board in an attempt to capture the other side's flag.
Fair's role for the West Point High School football team has primarily been to shadow the quarterback and to contain him in the running and passing attacks.
On Saturday, Fair played a little different role without junior linebacker Brandon Lairy and had to play more in coverage. As a result, Fair had one of two first-half interceptions for West Point in a defensive effort that set the tone Saturday night in a 41-15 victory against Hattiesburg in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title game at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The championship was the second in a row for West Point, and ninth overall. It also marked the first time in program history a West Point football team has gone 15-0.
"It felt marvelous," Fair said of his interception.
Tyler Rupert had the other interception in the first half. Brentt Cunningham, who helped fill in for Lairy, led the Green Wave with six solo tackles (eight overall) added an interception in the second half. With one minute remaining in the game, Cunningham was seen carrying a belt that would have made a WWE champion proud.
In all, West Point limited quarterback Jarod Conner to 16-for-30 for 248 yards and no passing touchdowns.
The defensive effort made West Point defensive coordinator Matt Snow proud.
"We really didn't change anything. We just did what we did," Snow said. "We relied on our speed. We knew they were fast and talented, but we also knew that we had speed. We just go out and rush the passer and do our job on the back end."
Hattiesburg had 25 carries for 48 yards for an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Take away a long run of 23 yards and that average is infinitesimal.
Snow said the Green Wave weren't really sure how things were going to work out on defense after Lairy had to have emergency surgery earlier this week. He said Cunningham stepped in and did a great job. In the second half, Snow said Carr, who played more coverage in the first half, played more in the box and served as a spy to Conner.
"Brandon being out gave us a little something extra to play for not having him on the field," Snow said. "We let the get behind us a couple of times, which we don't want to do, but we're an aggressive defense and time to time that can happen. I was very pleased with the way our kids played."
Snow said the ability to stop the run gave his front four freedom to attack Conner. He felt the Green Wave's rush would give the Tigers a few wrinkles they hadn't see before, which he believed would help the passing game. Terence Cherry and Jaylen Cungious had the team's only sacks, but the Green Wave had 10 tackles for a loss of 32 yards. Cherry and E.J. Bush had two tackles for loss.
"We were really fast up front not just on the back end," Snow said. "We thought we were faster than them and could get off the ball a little quicker and just rely on their speed."
West Point coach Chris Chambless said his defense prepared "very carefully" for an opponent that had so many options in the passing game. He said the Green Wave had to make sure they were ready to handle six and seven options who could break a big play.
"We missed Brandon," Chambless said. "Brandon is very good with his technique. He is sound and going to be where he is supposed to be. He can run and tackles well. Brentt was able to come in and he was playing extra hard for his buddy. He came in and we got the job done."
Cunningham also had a quarterback hurry and Tray Brownlee added a pass breakup to wrap up a dominating season that saw the Green Wave allow only 103 points. Hattiesburg's final score with 54 seconds remaining came after West Point started to sub its starters out. It allowed the Tigers to earn a moral victory and score the most points in a game against the Green Wave this season.
That didn't diminish the joy Fair felt after the game. Sure, the Tigers had pass plays of 26, 41, and 44 yards, but three interceptions and a gold ball more than made up for a few hiccups against a quality opponent.
"I can't explain it because it feels so good," Fair said. "You just don't know how this feels. It feels so good. Thanks to all of the fans, the coaches, my teammates. We put it on the line and won the ball."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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