A battle of two-second half teams went the way of West Jones Thursday night.
Seventy-two hours out of quarantine, West Jones held off a surge by Taylorsville in the second half to beat the Tartars 35-21 on the eve of Hurricane Delta. The game was initially scheduled for Friday night but moved to Thursday night, along with the rest of South Mississippi high school football.
"It's like anything else, weather dictates what you're able to do," said West Jones head coach Scott Pierson. And to be honest, as good as their skilled players are and their back end being so good, we thought our advantage was in the box. And that's what we tried to take advantage of."
All five West Jones touchdowns developed on the ground, as a steady flow of rain hampered the passing game.
"Taylorsville did a great job defensively, making some adjustments and taking away what we wanted to do," said Pierson. "It was a fun game because it [featured] two good teams getting coached well. There were an ebb and flow, where both coaches were trying to find answers to what the other was doing."
Junior athlete Kendorean Russell score three of the five Mustangs touchdowns on rushes of one, four, and two yards. His last touchdown sealed the contest for West Jones, putting his team on top 35-21 with 1:47 left to play.
West Jones led Taylorsville 21-7 at the half.
Taylorsville pulled within a score midway through the third quarter on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line. The extra point was no good, which left an eight-point West Jones lead, 21-13.
Pierson was pleased with how his team responded on the ensuing drive.
“I think in every game when our opponent scores to start the second half, we’ve answered,” said Pierson. “That’s what good teams do.”
Senior running back Kentrel Pruitt scored from six-yards out and pushed West Jones back in front by two scores, 28-13.
West Jones answers on a 6-yard run by Pruitt. 3Q/2:42- West Jones 28, Taylorsville 13. pic.twitter.com/UHMgKZevoC— James Pugh (@jpughinreallife) October 9, 2020
"But the big fear I'm having right now is that we turn the ball over five times every week," Pierson added. "You can't do that continuously, and put that much pressure on yourself to make that drive at the end of the game. Unless we clean that up, I'm worried about that. Because once, okay, twice, maybe, three times and four times, it is what you are. And that's what we are right now. We don't value the football. We're going to address that."
After a costly fumble, Taylorsville made it a one-score game once again, 28-21, after a 74-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback and Tulane commit Ty Keyes to senior wide receiver Arterious Miller under a minute into the final quarter.
Following another turnover, this time an interception by West Jones' Allen Follis, Taylorsville drove the ball into West Jones territory again intending to tie the game. Several huge penalties by the Tartars halted the drive near midfield and forced a punt.
West Jones sealed the game on Russell’s final rushing score under the two-minute mark.
And that should seal it. Russell scores his third TD tonight. 4Q/1:47- West Jones 35, Taylorsville 21. pic.twitter.com/itqzYntYTA— James Pugh (@jpughinreallife) October 9, 2020
"He's our best player," said Pierson. "He plays defense for us and is our best player [on the field]. He's probably our best running back, but you can't expect him to play both sides of the ball wide-open at the level he plays. So when we have an opportunity to put him in the game and let him run the ball, he's a finisher. He's probably the best player I've ever coached - a pure football player."
Junior West Jones running back Josh McDonald gained the largest chunk of yardage on a single play for the Mustangs on a 53-yard TD run in the second quarter.
West Jones/Taylorsville Rivalry:
Taylorsville leads the rivalry series, 10-6. But since Scott Pierson arrived at West Jones in 2002, the Mustangs have not lost a game in the series under his 18-year tenure.
West Jones beat Taylorsville 22-19 in overtime in 2002, 36-0 in 2003, and 32-0 in 2004 - all under Pierson.
"I think this is something me and Mitch Evans (Taylorsville head coach) needs to sit down and talk about," said Pierson when asked about the rivalry. "There was about 10 or 12 years in a row where Taylorsville opened the season with West Jones. And it was a great game. There were a couple of years where it got lopsided because we were really, really good and [the rivalry] disbanded. It's probably a game that needs to be played more often. The atmosphere was great and everything. The downside is we're 5A, and they're 2A. But I'll tell your right now, that's not a 2A team right there. I don't look at numbers, I look at players on the field, how well they're coached, and how well they respond to adversity, and Taylorsville plays at a high level."
West Jones (4-0) travels ‘Between the Bricks” next Friday night to play Laurel in Region 3-5A action.
Taylorsville (4-1) goes on the road once again next Friday night to play Enterprise in a Region 5-2A contest.
Kickoffs are slated for 7 p.m.