Trailing 16-0 and driving inside West Jones’ 30-yard line, Hattiesburg looked to spark a comeback. However, West Jones’ Antonie Kirk picked off Hattiesburg quarterback Jarod Conner and scored on a 63-yard pick-6 to give the Mustangs a 23-0 lead heading into halftime.
West Jones would end up shocking Hattiesburg 37-14, and it’ll play Picayune in the 5A South State Championship Friday.
“Just mistakes and turnovers,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “Those were two things we couldn’t do tonight against a really good football team. They didn’t need any help and I thought we helped them tonight. You just can’t do that against a good football team.”
It was the first of three interceptions by Conner who was 6-for-17 and had just eight rushing yards heading into the half. Vance said the halftime adjustment was simple.
“We had to play better,” Vance said. “We had to do a better job of taking care of the ball. [We] made a few adjustments at the start of the second half. We saw some stuff work but in the end. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
At the same time, it was one of several backbreaking plays made by Kirk, who also caught a 34-yard catch that set up a game-opening-drive field goal for the Mustangs. Kirk also had an 87-yard kickoff return that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass by West Jones and it ultimately killed Hattiesburg’s momentum late in the third quarter.
“I thought [West Jones] deserved to win in it,” Vance said. “They made plays, they were the better team tonight. I’ve said how good their defensive front, their front seven. Everyone talks about Byron Young, he’s a great player and he showed it tonight. Some other guys up front are pretty doggone good, too.”
The difference maker in the game was West Jones’ ability to take away Hattiesburg’s run game and forced Conner to throw the ball. West Jones’ defense entered the game with 94 tackles for loss and 44.5 sacks, and the stat showed. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and had a scoop-and-score play in the third quarter to put the Mustangs up 37-14 and sacked Conner four times at the minimum.
Despite the loss, Hattiesburg went undefeated again in the regular season and won its region title for the second year in a row.
“We’re not going to be ashamed of the season we had,” Vance said. “We had a great year. We didn’t reach our ultimate goal but we had a great year and we are not going to hang our heads down. I’m proud of these young men and the effort and sacrifices they have made.”