You misjudge Justin Cox at your own peril.
If you don”t think the junior quarterback can beat a defender in a footrace, try him.
If you doubt the first-year starter can make enough passes to wide receiver Michael Carr or tight end Michael Bush to keep defenses honest, pack the box and he will make you pay.
Cox showcased both facets of his game Friday night on the biggest stage of the season to help the West Point High School football team reach an even bigger venue.
Cox rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another to lead West Point to a 41-21 victory against New Hope in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State title game at Trojan Field.
Cox rushed for touchdowns on runs of 19 and 5 yards and then had a back-breaking 91-yard run in the third quarter to help West Point (13-1) keep the momentum.
“Justin is as fast as he has got to be on any play,” West Point High School coach Chris Chambless said. “That is what special about him. He is going to find a way to get the job done.”
Cox also found Carr on a 22-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. He capped the scoring play with a two-point conversion pass to Jeremy Evans.
Cox paced the Green Wave with 137 yards on seven carries. His effort was part of a 345-yard rushing performance that helped the Green Wave earned the right to play for a chance to win their first state title since 2005.
“He has meant a lot. I am not going to lie about it,” senior running back Xavier Hogan said. “He is like our glue. We have a four-back rotation. It is hard to stop. We have four good backs and Justin at quarterback. We have a great offensive line. It is hard to stop. We work as a unit. We are a family. If we play like this in Jackson, we are going to be here with a ring.”
Hogan, who capped West Point”s scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run, said Cox has done a fine job under center behind a dominating defensive line. He said his athleticism and poise have taken some of the pressure off the Green Wave running backs to carry the load.
The result has been a balanced offense that loves to pound the football, but one that can also sting you in the back if you”re not paying attention.
Cox and the Green Wave also can run right by you.
West Point did just that with the momentum in the balance in the third quarter. Pinned at their 6 thanks to a pooch punt by Zak Thrasher, the Green Wave faced a third-and-7 from their 9 with less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.
Leading 21-7, West Point needed a big play to get itself out of the hole. Cox delivered by going right with the flow on a keeper. He then darted back to his left and raced 91 yards virtually untouched for the game-changer.
“I just saw an open field and I knew I had to run,” Cox said. “I had to be a leader for the team. Coach told me to be a leader, so I am doing it.”
Cox, who played cornerback last season, has been the leader the Green Wave have needed all season. In the second quarter, he was slow to get up after getting the wind knocked out of him. He dug his head into the turf as he tried to shake off the hit and walked slowly off the field after a few shaky moments.
Carr came in at quarterback and nearly threw a touchdown pass, but Cox”s emergence has allowed Carr to stay at wide receiver, which has given West Point a dangerous option teams have to consider before they try to put eight or nine men at the line of scrimmage to stop the Green Wave ground game.
Cox said he enjoys guiding an offense that has branded the way it plays “West Point football.”
“We do that every Friday,” Cox said. “We just go out there and play West Point football and pound the ball, pound the ball, and win. The offensive line cranks it up and the backs start running harder. We just pound them, pound them, pound them and get first downs, first downs, first downs, and touchdowns.”
Hogan agreed and said “West Point football cannot be denied” thanks, in part, to the play of Cox.
“He is a sly, young guy,” Hogan said. “I can”t even describe him. He doesn”t look as fast as other people, but he gets going. I am so happy. I ran from one end of the sidelines to the other right with him (on the 91-yard run). I love to see that.”
Chambless credits offensive coordinator Lee J. Grisham for the schemes that keep the Green Wave rolling. He said the team has the pieces it needs and Grisham does a wonderful job of putting players in position to succeed.
“Coach Grisham knows what our guys can do,” Chambless said. “He calls excellent games week in and week out. That is a plus for me because I know he is going to take care of his business with the offense. He does a good job and he knows what Justin can do and he allows him to do that. He uses everything we have got. That is what is so effective for us on offense. When something is open, he doesn”t have to move a primary guy around to get it to him. He can get it to somebody else. He does a good job of play-calling, knowing where people are, knowing what the other team is fixin” to do on defense, and he does a good job scouting film.”
New Hope High School coach Michael Bradley credited West Point for doing what it does so well. He said the Green Wave manage to run the ball even though opponents know what they”re going to do and how they”re going to try to do it.
“They”re bigger and stronger than most of the teams they play,” Bradley said. “They believe in their offseason program. They”re physically strong and they”re talented. They do what they do well and they”re well coached. To execute a game plan like they do you have to be well coached and you have to believe in it, and they obviously do.”
West Point also believes in its chances to win a state title, but don”t think Cox or any of the other Green Wave players are going to look past Wayne County.
If you think that, you doubt Cox and West Point at your own risk.
“It means a lot (to play for a state title in Jackson),” Cox said. “These seniors are my brothers. They wanted to go so bad. I wanted to go so bad. I have been dreaming about this ever since I was little. I just wanted and they wanted it.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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