WEST POINT — Chris Chambless doesn”t feel the West Point High School football team is where it needs to be.
That isn”t surprising considering the defending Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A champion has played only five games.
But Chambless has something at his disposal this season to help keep the Green Wave focused: A loss.
West Point is still smarting from a home loss to Starkville on Sept. 10 that saw it squander a 20-point halftime lead in a 21-20 decision at home.
The Green Wave rebounded to beat Noxubee County, and last week opened Region 1, District 1 play with a 34-8 victory against Indianola Gentry.
At 7 tonight, West Point (4-1) will play host to New Hope (3-2, 1-0) in a pivotal region game. A year ago, West Point defeated New Hope twice (its only two losses), including a victory in the North Half title game that propelled the Green Wave to Jackson. They completed the title run with a convincing victory against Wayne County.
To get to back to the championship stage, Chambless said West Point needs to continue to play with the attitude and focus that has made it one of the state”s top programs.
“That was a humbling experience having a 20-point halftime lead and getting beat by one point on a field goal you missed short,” Chambless said. “We should have never been in that situation, but they”re back focused. I think we got a little complacent, and that is fixed now. We”re going to continue to work hard and to play hard.
Chambless said he will be like many coaches across the country in that he will continue to preach to his players that they need to improve, especially on the fundamentals.
Senior athlete Tommy Keys, who plays most of minutes at defensive line, said the Green Wave are about “80 percent” to where they want to be at the end of the season. He said the loss to Starkville was a “wake-up call” that served notice the Green Wave couldn”t rest on laurels and get the job done.
“We went to Florida and won a big game and I think we thought we didn”t have to show up in practice every day and it was going to come naturally in the game,” Keys said. “It didn”t happen that way. We didn”t play to the level we need to play (against Starkville). It hurts to lose to your rival, especially at home.”
Keys said everyone returned to school Sunday to watch film of the loss with a quiet intensity. He said there was a lot less chatter and better execution on fundamentals at practice.
Senior center LeDerrius Taylor has emerged as a leader on an offensive line that has replaced four players. He said the little things like one missed block hurt the Green Wave earlier in the year. He said the team also failed to maintain its focus after a 14-0 victory against Mainland (Fla.) High on Aug. 27 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The chance to appear on a national stage in another state was such a high, Taylor said, that the players” concentration took a natural dip. It didn”t help that the Green Wave had to cancel a scheduled game the following week against Columbus due to a scheduling mix-up with the MHSAA. The week off helped extend that lull that ultimately came back and bit West Point against Starkville.
Taylor said the Green Wave are eager to show they have put that episode behind them and can get back to Jackson, the site of the state title games.
“We beat ourselves (against Starkville),” Taylor said. “Simple mistakes cost us that game. We have played pretty good this year, but we haven”t played our best. We laid back (against Starkville) and didn”t finish it.”
Said Chambless, “He is a vocal leader for us. He has become the captain of the offensive line. It is a good thing to see your center step up and do that.”
New Hope coach Michael Bradley also hopes his team is ready coming off a 38-27 victory against Oxford last week. Bradley liked the fight and intensity his team showed in its district opener and home and that it reminded him of the energy his team had last season.
The Trojans will need a similar kind of effort tonight if they want to earn their first victory against the Green Wave since 1998.
“Our big guys have to plat well (tonight) for us to be successful,” said Bradley of senior leaders like Terrance Dentry, Johnny Beamon, Franklin Richardson Jr., and Zak Thrasher, among others. “If we continue to do the little things to be successful (the momentum from last week) will carry over.”
Bradley hopes the Trojans can equal the defensive performance they delivered last week. He praised Jarmar Payne, Curtis Shirley, and Kris Douglas for raising their levels, and will look to those three to do the same tonight.
“I thought (Payne) really stepped up his game, played really well, and kind of emerged as a leader on our defense,” Bradley said. “Hopefully, our guys can hang in there with them and do what we have to do to stick around until we get a chance to make something positive happen for ourselves.”
West Point already has shown it can do that following a loss. Tonight, it will try to do the same thing to extend a winning streak to three games.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.