December 28, 2017 10:23:45 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
In the preseason, West Point High School senior Jason Brownlee talked about his team embracing the chance to be elite.
Winning a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State championship in 2016 helped the program win its first title since 2010. However, a deep and talented senior class wanted to become elite.
"We talked about how great it would be to win another championship," Brownlee said. "Winning back-to-back championships is how you become an elite program. We wanted to do something that really set us apart."
West Point accomplished that mission by becoming the football program's first team to go 15-0. In the process, it repeated as Class 5A State championship.
For its dominance, West Point's state championship run is The Dispatch's Top High School Sports Story for 2017.
West Point now owns five state championships since the turn of the century, and nine championships overall.
"This may have been the most focused team I have been around," West Point coach Chris Chambless said. "All teams have that Friday where you don't play well or you play well but not your best. This team never had one of those. They were ready to go each and every Friday night. It was a special group. They took to heart the challenge of winning another championship."
Since West Point last state championship in 2010, a heart-breaking overtime loss to Starkville in the Class 5A North State championship game followed in 2012. After that, region rival Oxford ended multiple playoff runs by West Point.
In 2016, West Point lost to Starkville but regrouped to win its final 13 games. West Point survived a hard-fought battle against Oxford at home in the regular season but rolled to a 41-0 road win in a playoff rematch.
"Beating Oxford was more mental than anything else," West Point senior lineman Terence Cherry said. "We just had a hard time in those games. If something bad happened to us, we couldn't respond. Beating them (in the 2016 regular season) changed everything. We knew then we could win a championship."
In 2016, West Point was still learning how to win the big game. The Green Wave also were looking for a replacement for Aeris Williams, who had moved on to Mississippi State after the 2014 campaign. The Green Wave also dealt with adversity when then-junior running back Chris Calvert was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms three games into the season. Fortunately, Marcus Murphy quickly established himself as one of the state's premier players. Murphy had left the quarterback position to focus more on running back.
West Point learned how to play without Calvert, how to handle adversity, and how to handle Oxford.
In the postseason, the team dominated with the defense allowing three touchdowns in four playoff wins. In the state championship game, West Point grounded Laurel's high-flying attack in a 29-8 victory.
"Normally, when a team wins a championship, they take a step back," Brownlee said. "The hunger is not there. You win and everybody is satisfied. That was not the case with this team. No one was going to accept anything less than a perfect season."
West Point achieved that perfect season with its lowest margin of victory being 19 points in a 32-13 second-round playoff victory against Grenada. West Point beat Class 6A runner-up Starkville by 25 points and Class 4A State champion Noxubee County by 33 points.
Calvert returned to maximum speed with 1,445 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. Murphy, a MSU signee, moved to quarterback and combined to throw and to run for 2,914 yards with 40 touchdowns.
Senior Xavier Fair led a defense that held 10 of 15 opponents to a touchdown or less.
It seemed like the bigger the game, the better the team played. The state championship win was a 41-15 dismantling of previously unbeaten Hattiesburg.
"One of the best teams this state has ever seen," Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said.
For Brownlee and the rest of the seniors, they prefer to call their team "elite."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.