There are those calling it the biggest upset of the season; others prefer to label it as the biggest upset – in, well, who can remember? West Jones head football coach Scott Pierson just likes to call it “the perfect storm.”
Against the Class 5A favorite and previously unbeaten Hattiesburg, the Mustangs pulled off what was thought to be impossible, defeating the Tigers on their home turf, 37-14, to advance to MHSAA Class 5A South State Championship game.
“I think it was just the perfect storm,” said Pierson. “We played about as well as we could. They turned the ball over, and we were able to capitalize when they did.”
Hattiesburg entered the contest averaging above 50 points per game; they didn’t come close to half that against the acclaimed West Jones defense. The Tigers were held scoreless until the 3:44 mark in the third quarter when senior quarterback and Memphis commit Jarod Conner found Darius Ruffin from 38 yards out.
“[Our defense] has played with focus all year,” said Pierson. “Our offense has gotten better [throughout the year], and we’re blessed to have a good offense now, but we’ve always been able to hang out hat on our defense. Our players rose to the occasion on that side of the ball and took it as a personal challenge. Everyone all week told them that Hattiesburg was going to hang 50 points on them and they took it personally.”
Conner, who had just six interceptions all season, threw three versus the Mustang defense. Senior defensive back Tymko Foster picked off Conner twice, while Antonie Kirk returned his interception 37 yards to push West Jones in front, 23-0, after a successful PAT by Walker Thomspon.
“Kirk always finds a way to get a big pick,” Pierson said. “His pick-six changed the whole momentum of the game.”
Hattiesburg led the night in offensive yards with 399, but the five turnovers forced by West Jones’ defense proved fatal. Junior Mustang defensive end Detorurean Crosby also turned a Hattiesburg turnover into quick points. Crosby’s 16-yard scoop and score with 2:20 remaining in the third gave West Jones a 37-6 lead.
It goes without saying, this week’s Sports601 Powerade Co-Players of the Week goes to the entire makeup of the West Jones defense.
Four players on defense – without question – stood out to Pierson in the win, of whom include: senior DE and Alabama commit Byron Young, senior safety Antiono Kirk, freshman LB Kendorean Russell and senior LB Sley Lyon.
Here is what Pierson had to say about each:
Byron Young: “Byron is our workhorse, and that’s pretty self-explanatory. He is what he is.”
Antiono Kirk: “[Antiono] plays on the back end and always finds a way to get a big pick. His pick-six changed the whole momentum of the game right before the half.”
Kendorean Russell: “[Kendorean] is a freshman for us that is coming along. He plays outside linebacker for us. Hattiesburg’s whole game plan was to put him in a bind, but he played at a high level for us.”
Sley Lyon: “Sley played outside linebacker for us, but we moved him inside. He’s averaging 10 tackles per game and leads by example.