Moments after speaking to his team last Friday night in Picayune, West Jones head football coach Scott Pierson stepped aside to spend a few quality moments with his family. As he would say a few minutes later, “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.”
Pierson, who led West Jones to its first ever South State win in program history, later added, “if you want to know what I think about next week, you’ll have to ask me Sunday.”
Sunday came as Pierson and his coaching staff prepared for their final test of the historic 2018 season. West Jones (12-2) is set to face West Point (13-1) in the MHSAA Class 5A State Championship game Saturday night at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“West Point is not only good, but they’ve been good for a long time,” said Pierson at a press conference Monday morning. “They do it the right way and have been doing it the right way for a very long time.”
While West Jones aims to win its first-ever title, West Point closes in on its third straight and 10th in program history.
“We have a big challenge [before us],” Pierson added. “Our defense has to play well for us to have a chance.”
Defense is the reason West Jones is here. Pierson, however, alludes to another reason.
“It’s the leadership of the kids,” said Pierson. “They’ve taken ownership of this team, to be honest with you. I wish there’s something else I could make up real quick, but it’s just that. A few kids making plays in critical times and the kids taking leadership and holding each other accountable.”
Senior and Alabama commit Byron Young leads the West Jones defensive line, and as West Point head coach Chris Chambless says, “a huge challenge.”
“The whole defense actually,” said Chamblees. “It starts with the line of scrimmage up front, and they do a great job controlling the line of scrimmage. I’ve always said, you have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to give yourself a chance. And there the best we’ve seen from top to bottom.”
Opponents average below nine points a game versus West Jones defense. Young leads the team in total tackles (118) and tackles for losses (29.5). Following in line with Young is senior defensive tackle Damion Cummingham. Cummingham leads West Jones in solo tackles (91) and third in TFL (16.5). Second on the team in TFL is senior defensive end Jon Micah Coleman (18).
West Point blanked Olive Branch 35-0 in the North State Championship. Pierson knows how big of a hurdle lies before West Jones Saturday night.
“We put in film last Sunday at 1 p.m. of West Point,” said Pierson. “We started watching our opponent and wow! They are by far the best football team we’ve played all year. They’re so physical on defense. And offensively, they’re going to make sure they can run the ball. I know we played Picayune, an unbelievable opponent, but these guys do it at a different level.”
Similar to Picayune, West Point runs a ground-oriented offense. Junior Brandon Harris leads the Green Wave with 1,105 yards and 18 touchdowns on 162 carries. Senior back Kameron Martin, who has 16 touchdowns on the season, ranks third in rushing yards with 750 on 111 carries. Coming in second is junior Dantarriyus Cannon with 875 yards and five TDs on 85 carries.
West Jones, though, is far more balanced on offense. Through 14 games, West Jones has averaged 147 yards a game through the air and 132 on the ground. Pierson says his offense has steadily improved as the year progressed.
“That’s something that gave us a chance to be successful,” said Pierson. “When our offense started clicking, we found ways to beat people. Our defense is what we’ve been able to hang our hat on, but now with our offense scoring points it gives us a little leeway.”
The last two playoff wins for West Jones (Hattiesburg and Picayune) have been emotional. After stunning Hattiesburg in the second round, 37-14, the focus was to look ahead and not be content. The same has been a focus this week says Pierson.
“The Hattiesburg game was such an emotional win,” Pierson said. “Everybody wanted to talk about that. But we had to get locked back in to play Picayune. You can look at this week in the same way. [I told our guys that] we haven’t arrived. We haven’t accomplished everything we’ve set out to do yet, so we let’s continue to grind and stay in the tunnel, so to speak, and continue to do what we do till the year’s over.”