October 27, 2013 1:32:22 AM
WEST POINT -- For the second-consecutive week, the West Point High School football team overcame a halftime deficit en route to a Class 5A, Region 1 win.
Last week, the Green Wave trailed Lake Cormorant 21-0 at halftime but rallied for a 24-21 victory.
On Friday at West Point, the Green Wave trailed 22-14 after two quarters, but the defense tossed a second-half shutout and the offense scored 29 unanswered points en route to a 43-22 victory against Saltillo.
"We had to overcome some adversity there in the first half, especially some really freak things just before halftime," West Point head coach Chris Chambless said. "But the team played a great second half and we dominated the final two quarters and that was the key to our win."
In a game that featured two of the top four running backs in the state statistic-wise, the Green Wave held a 14-6 lead just before half and looked to have one more chance to pad their lead before heading to the locker room after a defensive stand forced a punt. But Saltillo punter Drake McCarter launched a 50-yard boot that was downed at the West Point 7-yard line. The Tigers picked up a safety on the next play when the ball was snapped over the head of quarterback Josh Ewing.
Seconds later, Saltillo running back Diamante Pounds, the state's third-leading rusher, tied the game at 14 with a 65-yard touchdown return off the free kick. A.J. Rye's kick gave the Tigers a 15-14 lead with 1 minute, 35 seconds left in the half.
But the "freak things" hadn't quite run its course for West Point, as the Green Wave failed to run out the clock. A short fourth-down punt gave Saltillo the ball back at its 46. With just seconds left, quarterback Tyler Tollison picked up 4 yards on a first-down keeper and then, after a Tiger timeout, completed a 50-yard "Hail Mary" pass to David Little as time expired. Rye's kick sent sky-high Saltillo into the locker room with a 22-14 lead despite having picked up just two first downs in the opening half.
"If we could eliminate that weird stuff, we'd be undefeated," Chambless said.
The "Hail Mary" play turned out to be the last hurrah for Saltillo, as West Point's "Ground-Pounders," led by Mississippi State commit Aeris Williams, controlled the ball and the clock in the third and fourth quarters. Williams and backfield mates Lacequiu Starks, Roger Thomas, Dason Thomas, and Ewing combined to rush for 229 yards on 37 attempts in the second half.
"Running the ball is our forte, and we like to wear the opponent out by pounding at them for a full four quarters," Chambless said. "We've got to have our backs pound the opponent and get those yards for us."
The Green Wave defenders, meanwhile, after giving up 184 total yards in the first half, limited Saltillo to three first downs and 23 yards in the final two quarters -- a net 11 yards rushing and 12 passing. They also limited Saltillo to four offensive plays in the third period, two of which resulted in turnovers - a fumble and an interception. All three second-half first downs came on the Tigers' final possession.
Down by eight points to start the third quarter, West Point recovered an onside kick attempt by Saltillo near midfield. Five running plays by Williams gained 33 yards and set up a 21-yard touchdown run by Starks. Omar Lemus' kick pulled the Green Wave within 22-21.
Three plays later, West Point's Tony Rush recovered a Tollison fumble at the Tiger 37 and Williams, after a stop behind the line of scrimmage and two penalties, picked up 42 yards before scoring on a 5-yard plunge. Ewing's conversion run on a keeper gave West Point (5-4, 3-2 region) the lead for good, 29-22.
Minutes later, West Point's offense was back on the field after a Jalen Lee pass interception gave the Wave a first at their 27. Williams then scored from four yards out to cap a 14-play drive and Lemus' kick upped West Point's lead to 36-22 with 8:45 to play in the fourth quarter.
After a three-and-out for Saltillo on its ensuing series, West Point wrapped up the scoring with a clock-eating, 11-play drive which ended on a 14-yard run by Thomas and a Lemus kick with 1:51 left on the clock.
Punts were the order of the day early on, as both teams kicked the ball away on their first two possessions of the game. But Saltillo broke the ice with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Tollison to Pounds to take a 6-0 lead with 5:04 left in the first quarter.
West Point countered with a seven-play, 68-yard march to take the lead on a 1-yard plunge by Thomas and a Lemus' kick with 2:34 left and then added a second score with 16 seconds to play in the first period on a 28-yard dash by Williams and a second Lemus kick.
Williams, who came into the contest with the fourth-highest rushing total in the state (1,443), padded his numbers as he finished with a game-high 268 yards on 38 carries. Pounds, who was 34 yards up on Williams before the game, was held to 44 yards on nine carries.
"A big plus for us tonight was that we didn't have to play Aeris (Williams) on the defensive side as much as we have in the past," said Chambless.
Saltillo coach Pat Byrd wasn't happy with the outcome, but he knew what was in store for his team.
"West Point is and always has been a physical-type team who likes to hammer away at you," Byrd said. "You can take the pounding for a while, but it takes its toll over a full four quarters. We played hard and we played with great effort. But we had little margin for error and we made too many of those (errors), especially in the first half with dropped passes."
Friday's decision marks the seventh-consecutive win for West Point in the series dating back to 2005. West Point has outscored Saltillo 288-51 in that span.