Despite trailing 9-7 at halftime, Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance told his team that they were where they wanted to be against West Jones.
Vance was right, largely due to the Tiger defense forcing four turnovers against West Jones to come up with a 20-17 win.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group of players," Vance said. "Our guys believe, and they kept believing. When things weren't going well, they didn't quit, and they didn't give up from the beginning of the season to tonight. I told them at halftime that we were right where we wanted to be.
"This is playoff atmosphere. This is what you have to get used to playing in. I just can't say enough how we came out and played the second half."
West Jones' most dominant of the drive of the game came on its first possession. The Mustangs drove 90-yards in 9-plays, with Mustangs scoring on a two-yard touchdown run from running back Antwoine Gavin. Hattiesburg blocked the PAT to trail 6-0.
Later in the first quarter, Hattiesburg forced the first turnover of the night, with linebacker Dillon Crowell recovering a fumble.
The Tigers then used a trick play to catch the Mustangs off guard. Quarterback Tavares Wade threw a lateral pass to running back John Weathersby, who completed a 50-yard pass to step first and goal on West Jones' 9-yard line.
However, a loss for 13-yards on a busted run looked to kill the potential touchdown. However, Wade responded with a 27-yard run and finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
West Jones was able to kick a 34-yard field goal before the half to hold the 9-7 lead.
Yet the turnover bug bit West Jones again. On the third play of the half, West Jones quarterback Marion Lindsey was picked off by Crowell and returned it to the Mustangs' 9-nine yard line.
"It felt like a good momentum shift for us," Crowell said. "Coach called a good play. The d-line did their job and got back there and got pressure on the quarterback. Everybody else in the secondary did their job. He just happened to throw it to me."
Crowell's interception set up Wade's second touchdown of the night, which gave Hattiesburg a 13-9 lead.
"That's a team that doesn't turn the ball over," Vance said. "That's the thing tonight was to create and generate turnovers. I can't say enough about our defensive coaching staff and our defensive players. I'm so proud of those guys."
On the next drive, Lindsey coughed up a fumble, which set up the game's biggest play. On fourth and 14 on West Jones' 27-yard line, Wade connected with Thomas Fairley for 25 yards to set up first and goal on the 1-yard line. Wade then punched in his third touchdown of the game to both extend and give cushion to the Tigers' lead at 20-9.
"(The play) was to drop back," Vance said. "If there was nobody open, then run it.
"It was a great catch by Thomas Fairley and a great throw by T. Wade. Heck of a catch getting it down to the 1-yard line."
Hattiesburg (5-5, 1-5) needed that cushion as West Jones (7-2, 5-1) managed to score late, with Joshua McDonald scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run. A trick play helped the Mustangs score on a 2-point conversion, but the effort was too little too late.
The Mustangs outgained Hattiesburg 331-258, but a combination of the Tigers' four turnovers and Wade's three-touchdown day were the difference in the game. Wade rushed for 101 yards on 20 carries, throwing for 71 yards and finishing 7 for 11.
"He's just a sophomore," Vance said. "He's only going to get better. He's still learning, and he's still growing. He understands what we are doing, and he is doing an awesome job of leading this football team right now".
Hattiesburg has now shrugged off its 0-4 start to the year and is now able to win the region title against rival Laurel next week.
"That's where you want to be," Vance said. "Football teams always want to control their own destiny. We don't want to leave it up to other people to decide it for you. I can't say enough about these guys and what they mean to me."