Momentum shifted on a dime.
West Jones cornerback Cedric Bender picked up the loose football moments after delivering a monstrous hit to Laurel senior quarterback Dexter Scott at West Jones' one-yard line. Ninety-three yards later - the last 30 feeling more strenuous than the previous 60-plus yards while nearly out of breath - Bender crossed the goal line for a West Jones touchdown and a seven-point lead, 13-6.
Wow. Just wow. 2Q/10:49- West Jones 14, Laurel 6. pic.twitter.com/JeCh4F04ge— James Pugh (@jpughinreallife) November 21, 2020
“Big play,” said West Jones head coach Scott Pierson. “That was the play of the game. Laurel was about to take back the lead on us, and if that play doesn’t happen, I don’t know what would have happened. That play changed the whole momentum of the game.”
“I was really tired,” said Bender with a laugh when describing the last several yards of his scoop and score.
Whether directly or indirectly, West Jones capitalized on three of Laurel's seven turnovers 'Between the Bricks' Friday night to stage a 42-21 win in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"It was an emotional game for both sides," said Pierson. "When you play with high emotions, things like that happen. The first time we played, we were on the other side of that. This time, we were on this side of it. What I do like about that is when there was a turnover, we cashed in on it. That was the difference."
When West Jones met Laurel during the regular season, five turnovers in or near the red zone proved costly for the Mustangs. Friday night, the shoe was on the other foot.
"I knew if we came out here and played our brand of football, then we would come out with a win," said West Jones senior quarterback Alan Follis, who tossed three picks in or near the goal line in the two teams October 16 pairing. "Last time [against Laurel] turnovers and penalties killed us. This time we were playing that up in our mind."
Follis threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in Friday night’s win.
From West Jones’ first play from scrimmage in the second half, leading Laurel by two scores (28-14), Follis hit junior wide receiver Zyquawn Williams on a slant route for a 63-yard touchdown.
“We went into halftime with a plan,” said Pierson. “Then Laurel came out running man and straight seven in the box. Follis checked to that play, and that’s what you expect from a senior.”
“We had a play called, and Laurel came out in man-to-man with seven players in the box,” added Follis, “so I just checked it to Williams on a slant. It was an easy throw and catch. We just took what Laurel was giving us.”
Williams also caught Follis’ other touchdown pass from 31 yards out.
Just as Pierson did with Follis late in the season last year, the 18th year West Jones head coach gave the reins of running the football to Follis again. The senior quarterback's rushing score was 17 yards out in the second quarter, putting West Jones on top, 28-6.
Follis rush from 17 yards out. Mustangs score several plays after a Laurel turnover on downs (bad snap on punt). 2Q/4:54- West Jones 28, Laurel 6. pic.twitter.com/i6fF0eCTnF— James Pugh (@jpughinreallife) November 21, 2020
“You lose now, you go home,” said Pierson. “If you lose one during the [regular season], it’s not the end of the world. But if you lose now, you go home, so we’re going to give the ball to our best players and let them make plays and live with the outcome.”
“It’s definitely been a weird year,” added Follis. “There’s been ups and downs. But we know that this isn’t going to be our last win. We have to get better next week and beat whoever we are playing.”
Senior running back Kentrel Pruitt rushed for West Jones’ other two scores, one from a yard out in the first half and the other from 24 yards in the second.
"These seniors have been together since they were sophomores," said Pierson. "They've won one South State and lost another at South State. They loved the way it felt when they won it, and they've had a hard time swallowing the one we lost. So, I think they're on a mission, and we as coaches are trying to get them there."
West Jones advances to next Friday night's Class 5A South State Championship for the third year in a row. They'll face Pascagoula, who knocked off Hattiesburg Friday night in overtime, 35-32.