Photo/James Pugh

With his team trailing by one, 23-22, senior kicker Walker Thompson lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt with 3:32 left to play. As far as the West Jones 2018 football fortunes were concerned, Thompson’s right foot was at this moment as valuable as a chunk of gold.

It was nearly a miracle that Thompson even had the opportunity for a game-winning attempt. His Mustangs stumbled out of the gate this night in Soso, as they watched a very early 3-0 lead vanquished by a 20-0 run by Stone County. The Tomcats used a 93-yard kickoff return, a 54-yard dash to pay dirt, and a 98-yard fumble return to take a 20-3 lead with over 10 minutes still left to play in the second quarter. It was just about the worst possible start to the game that the West Jones coaches could have imagined for their team.

“We played as bad of a first half as we could have played,” Head Coach Scott Pierson told his Mustangs after the game. “You had two choices: you could stand up and fight like a man or roll over. You did exactly what I thought you would do.”

Reeling from their atrocious start, the Mustangs began to crawl back into the game with just over seven minutes left in the first half, when they used a 57-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Alan Follis to Antonie Kirk. The PAT went awry, but the hosts had closed their deficit to 20-9. That would be the score at halftime.

In the third quarter, after an exchange of possessions, Thompson uncorked a 46-yard punt that pinned the Tomcats on their own 10. Stone County promptly fired off 12 plays and drove inside the West Jones’ 20. They settled for a 38-yard field goal that gave them a comfortable 23-9 advantage. It looked as if the Mustangs’ fine season was over. Sophomore Tajrick Randolph had other ideas. He took a 2nd-and-2 toss from Follis, with a defender right on top of him, and scooted 66 yards down the Mustangs’ sideline. His score and the PAT narrowed Stone County’s lead to 23-16.

The Mustangs’ defense, which stiffened considerably in the second half, forced a punt on the visitors’ next possession. The punter muffed the snap, and the Mustangs recovered at the Stone County 31. The West Jones offense used just 92 seconds to find the Land of Milk & Honey. Follis covered the final five yards, making the score 23-22. The PAT, however, was blocked, leaving the Mustangs still looking at a playoff exit with 6:22 remaining in the game.

Thompson’s ensuing kickoff nailed the Tomcats back at their own 6, and the Mustangs’ defense stood strong again. Dawson Cudd punted to Kirk, who took the ball inside the Stone County 45 and scampered all the way down to the 17. However, three plays netted the Mustangs minus one yard.

It was time for Thompson’s golden foot, and the senior didn’t disappoint the hometown fans. The snap back from the right hash mark was good, and Thompson lofted the ball just far enough over the crossbar to move his team to the second round of the playoffs against Hattiesburg next weekend.

“I think it’s been like that all year,” noted Pierson when asked about his team’s resiliency. “That’s what so special about this group. We may not be the most talented, but we play hard for each other.”