West Jones brings stout defense into second-round matchup with Hattiesburg

By CAMAL PETRO,

The undefeated Hattiesburg Tigers continued their march through the 2018 season with a dominating 52-6 win over Brookhaven in the first round of the 5A playoffs. The competition is supposed to get stiffer this time of year, but the Tigers’ rushing attack had no problem with the Panthers Friday night.

Senior Drexlan Allen rushed for a season-high 202 yards and two scores on 14 carries, and senior Jarod Conner, who was named 5A Mr. Football last week, added 155 yards on the ground and four touchdowns on 14 tries. He also had 176 passing yards on 10-for-16 attempts.

“It’s fun when you’re clicking like that running the football because you don’t have to worry about throwing the ball,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “Our offensive line did a good job and our wideouts cracked some big runs for us downfield. It was a really great night running the football, and it makes calling plays a lot easier.”

The level of competition will almost assuredly be better Friday night, though, as the 10-2 West Jones Mustangs come to town for a second-round meeting at D.I. Patrick Stadium. West Jones features a solid offensive attack with a stiff defense, but its two losses came to Laurel and Wayne County, two teams Hattiesburg handled easily this year.

Defensively, the Mustangs are led by Alabama commit Byron Young on the defensive line. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound lineman leads the team with 98 total tackles – 25.5 for a loss – and 13.5 sacks. He’s also caused a fumble and snagged an interception, but Vance said West Jones is more than just Young on defense.

“He’s as good as advertised, but he’s not the only one,” Vance said. “They have some other guys on the defensive front who are probably underrated. They’re a very talented group. Byron gets most of the publicity, rightfully so, but there are some other guys, I promise you, who are really good.”

The Mustangs’ defense is only allowing opponents to score eight points per game, too, and they’ve pitched six shutouts this season. The most a team has scored was 23 points, and it’s happened twice in 2018. Laurel beat West Jones 23-17 in overtime earlier this season, and West Jones beat Stone 25-23 last week in a first-round matchup.

Brookhaven put 20 on the scoreboard and Bay Springs scored 13, which were both Mustang wins, but every other team either scored in the single digits or put up a goose egg.

“Their front seven all together and their linebackers are really good, too,” Vance said. “They also have some guys in the secondary who impress me when I’m watching film. They’re going to be predominately a four-man front, 4-3 (defense), and rely on that front seven to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They’re good at what they do.”

Offensively, West Jones is a spread team with a precise quarterback passing the ball and multiple running backs who can make plays on the ground. Sophomore Alan Follis has 1,402 passing yards on 105-of-166 attempts (63 percent) while adding 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Vance gave the young West Jones quarterback high praise, too.

“The quarterback is probably one of the most accurate passers we’ve seen all year,” Vance said. “They have some wideouts who can make plays for them, and he’s athletic enough that he can run it some. He can hurt you with his legs.”

Senior Antonie Kirk is Follis’ No. 1 target, as he caught 41 of his 105 competitions for 637 yards with two touchdowns. Sophomore Tajrick Randolph is second on the team with 366 receiving yards and four scores on 22 attempts, and senior Jalen Graham leads West Jones with five touchdowns on just 15 receptions.

Rushing the ball, the Mustangs have two players who have more than 98 carries this season. Juniors Micheal Neal and Jasper Jones lead the rushing attack with 567 and 460 yards, respectively, while Jones leads the team with seven scores and Neal adds four.

West Jones is scoring nearly 30 points per game, too.