By Buster Wolfe
West Jones scored almost every way possible Friday night on both offense and defense to hand Hattiesburg its first defeat by a 37-14 score and advance to the South State Class 5A championship next Friday against Picayune.
Coach Scott Pierson’s Mustangs (11-2) rolled up a 23-0 halftime advantage over the defending south state champion Tigers (13-1) with kicking, rushing and passing scores and a pick-six TD.
Meanwhile, Hattiesburg couldn’t get any momentum after an opening-drive interception, the pick-six, a missed field goal, two drives that ended in punts and two fourth-down plays that failed to pick up the needed yardage.
Mustang defender Tymko Foster picked off a Hattiesburg pass on the Tigers’ third play of the game. Five plays later, West Jones kicker Walker Thompson booted a 22-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs scored their first touchdown of the game in the second quarter on an 11-play, 56-yard drive that ended with Kentrell Pruitt’s 1-yard dive over right tackle with 9:33 remaining until halftime. Leading 9-0, West Jones went to the air, as quarterback Alan Follis connected with Zack Pearson from 20 yards out to lead 16-0 with 5:34 until intermission.
The Mustangs’ defense stepped in before the second quarter ended. As Hattiesburg was desperately trying to get on the scoreboard, West Jones defender Antonie Kirk stepped in front of a Hattiesburg pass and returned it for the touchdown. With the PAT kick, the Mustangs had a commanding 23-0 halftime lead.
Hattiesburg got on the scoreboard with 3:44 left in the third quarter on a 38-yard scoring pass from Jarod Conner to Darius Ruffin to cut the Mustangs’ lead to 23-6. However, West Jones scored quickly after a 90-yard kickoff return when Follis threw a 12-yard TD pass to Jalen Graham with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter. Thompson’s kick pushed the Mustangs to a 30-6 lead.
West Jones upped the margin when the Mustangs jumped ahead 37-6 on a defensive fumble recovery that Detorurean Crosby returned for a touchdown, dragging defenders the last 10 yards into the end zone.
The final Hattiesburg score came with 8:16 to play when the Tigers went 80 yards on 12 plays, scoring on Conner’s 13-yard run around right end. Conner passed to Ruffin for the two-point conversion.
West Jones sealed the victory with 5:13 to play when Foster stepped in front of a Hattiesburg pass and stopped the Tigers’ chance for winning.
Offensive statistics were misleading, as Hattiesburg collected 413 yards total offense to 263 by West Jones. The Tigers had 174 yards rushing and 239 yards passing, while the Mustangs gained 148 yards on the ground and 115 through the air.
The rushing workhorse for West Jones was Pruitt, who rushed 11 times for 40 yards and a touchdown. Michael Neal carried six times for 41 yards, Jasper Jones 11 times for 39 yards and Follis eight times for 28 yards.
Follis completed 6-of-16 passing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Kirk and Hunter Parish each had 38 yards in receptions, while Graham caught two for 19 yards and a touchdown and Pearson snagged a 20-yard score.
For Hattiesburg, only two players rushed for the Tigers. Conner carried 23 times for 120 yards and a TD, while Drexlan Allen had nine totes for 54 yards.
Conner completed 17-of-40 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.