Photo/James Pugh

Alan Follis never gave up on the first quarter play, even when Picayune’s defense had. Thinking their efforts to bring Follis down three yards in the backfield was a done deal, the West Jones sophomore quarterback played to the whistle. The sound came 33 yards downfield after Follis rolled and spun atop Picayune defenders and onto his feet, then followed it with a dash to the end zone. Picayune appeared stunned; West Jones celebrated. 

The Mustangs’ defense never gave up either Friday night under periods of light rain at Picayune’s Lee-Triplett Stadium. Until the 21st hour on Friday, Nov. 23, no one had heard the following – West Jones football is headed to a state championship game. Now, because of its stout defense and heads up plays on offense, West Jones can say the previously never used statement.

West Jones defeated Picayune 21-13 in the MHSAA Class 5A South State Championship game. It’s the storied program’s first such win. Before Friday night, the Mustangs were 0-5 in south state title games. 

Head coach Scott Pierson, who picked up his 200th win as a head coach and 152nd at West Jones, said the win was for every kid that’s ever played at West Jones.

“I really can’t describe this feeling,” said Pierson. “This was for every kid whose played under me, and really every kid that’s ever played at West Jones. The most gratifying thing after the game was over was to see those kids that I’ve had the great fortune to coach celebrate. And also for this community to experience it. It’s such a great feeling.”

After Follis’ first-quarter touchdown, West Jones struck again. Kentrell Pruitt, also a sophomore, scored from three yards out on the Mustangs second offensive drive. The scoring drive was made possible by three med-size pass plays to receivers Tajrick Randolph, Antonie Kirk and Jared Knotts.

Pruitt scored on another 3-yard run in the final minute and a half to push West Jones out in front, 21-13. The sophomore back finished with 44 yards on 13 carries. 

West Jones had chances to put the game away early, but two turnovers – on its next two possessions – kept Picayune within reach of a possible lead. Following its first turnover, a fumble near midfield on what would have been a long screen pass and run, Picayune made West Jones pay. Jortin Raine, Picayune’s leading rusher, scored on a 3-yard run with 3:51 left in the first half to draw the Tide within a touchdown, 14-7. The Mustangs committed another turnover as they were about to score on the following possession. Picayune intercepted a Follis pass in the end zone and returned it some 40 yards downfield in the final minute of the first half. 

“We had a chance to pull away,” said Pierson, “but that’s the coach in me talking. We made it harder than it really should have been.”

Follis led West Jones on offense with 197 passing yards on 17 completions, and 64 yards rushing on 10 carries.

Picayune pulled within one point, 14-13, late in the third quarter. A missed PAT kept West Jones in the lead. The Tide never scored again. 

Pierson said the night was about strength (Picayune’s dominant run game) vs. strength (West Jones’ dominant defensive line and defense as a whole). 

“Picayune made some plays,” Pierson said. “We bent a few times, but fortunately we never gave up.”

Defensive lineman Byron Young and Detorurean Crosby had one sack apiece. Young, senior and Alabama commit, got his on the very last play to seal the win. Picayune rushed to the line for one final play but ran out of clock. Young, Jon-Micah Coleman and Damion Cunningham had a TFL (tackle for a loss), Crosby finished with two.

West Jones (12-2) will face West Point (13-1) next Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of Southern Miss for the MSHAA Class 5A State Championship game. West Point blanked Olive Branch 35-0 to claim the North State title. 

But Pierson doesn’t want to think about next week just yet.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” added Pierson. “I’ve always been next week, next week, next week to the point I’ve never enjoyed the journey. I’ve made it a point this year to enjoy the journey. If you want to know what I think about next week, you’ll have to ask me Sunday.”