West Point claims state title over HattiesburgBy CAMAL PETRO,
OXFORD – The season to remember didn’t have the picture-perfect ending. The Hattiesburg Tigers fell to the West Point Green Wave, the defending state champions, 41-15 Saturday night in the 5A State Championship at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance didn’t let his players hang their heads after the game, though, promising the Tigers would be back on the big stage.
“They’re winners,” he said of the postgame speech to his players. “Regardless of what the scoreboard says, they’re winners. They’ll be winners in life. This team did something that hasn’t been done since 1998, and we’re so proud of them.
“Yes, we’ll still search for the first state championship, but we’re going to get there.”
West Point’s quick start
West Point began the game hot while Hattiesburg shuffled its feet in the early going, and the Tigers couldn’t dig themselves out of the early hole.
Senior Mississippi State commit Marcus Murphy and the Green Wave offense got started early and never stopped. On West Point’s opening drive, it marched 64 yards on 10 plays to begin the game with a touchdown. Murphy capped the possession off with a 15-yard score up the middle.
He added a 54-yard scamper five minutes later to push the lead to 14-0 before the Tigers could catch their breath.
Murphy finished the game with 226 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries, and he passed for 81 yards on 7-of-9 passing. As a team, the Green Wave rushed for 354 yards and six scores on 50 attempts.
“Hats off to that West Point team and Marcus Murphy, he’s a great player,” Vance said. “He’s (5A) Mr. Football for a reason, and they proved that tonight.”
After throwing two interceptions in the first quarter, junior Hattiesburg quarterback Jarod Conner regrouped with a few nice passes to get Hattiesburg back into the game. The biggest pass, however, came when his team was trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Conner found a wide-open Raheem Willis down the left side for a 44-yard gain, which set up a Conner 2-yard touchdown rush to make it 14-7.
Putting it away
After Hattiesburg punted on its next drive following the score, West Point got the ball back with 4:34 left to play in the first half. The Green Wave used 11 plays to move 81 yards to extend their lead to 21-7 with 20 seconds left in the half,
Not to be outdone by Murphy, senior Chris Calvert finished the drive with a 4-yard score. He finished with 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts.
Murphy added two more scores in the second half, a 37-yard rush and a 16-yarder, to give West Point the commanding 34-7 lead. Hattiesburg had a promising drive late in the third and early in the fourth, but Conner’s third interception ended any hopes of scoring points.
“They came out and did what they had to do to win the football game,” Vance said. “It’s just unfortunate for us that we didn’t play as well as we needed to play. Turnovers hurt us and just misfortunes.”
Calvert scored with 4:47 left to play to make it 41-7, and Conner pushed across the game’s final points with 54 seconds left to bring the game to its final, 41-15.
Conner finished the night with 248 passing yards on 16-of-30 attempts, but the three interceptions factored into the game the most. Senior D’andre Humbles recorded a 100-yard receiving game, hauling in five passes for 104 yards.
West Point was phenomenal on third downs, converting 73 percent (8-for-11) in the contest. What was more impressive about the conversion statistic was the Green Wave averaged 7 yards to go on their 11 attempts on third down.
The Green Wave held the ball for the most of the game, too. Their time of possession was 28:59 compared to Hattiesburg’s 19:01.
West Point didn’t turn the ball over, but it did have two fumbles in the game. On Hattiesburg’s three interceptions, the Green Wave scored 14 points.
Hattiesburg was tackled behind the line of scrimmage 10 times by the Green Wave’s defense Saturday night, resulting in a loss of 35 total yards. The Tigers still gained 296 total yards, 48 rushing and 248 passing.
Hattiesburg’s Ra’Sheim Jordan led the Tigers in tackles with 11 total, and Josh Sims and Will Robinson added nine apiece.