JACKSON — It took three plays for the West Point High School football team to set the tone Saturday night.
From there, the Green Wave played smash-mouth football like a champion.
Lakenderic Thomas” 12-yard run in the first quarter was far from the biggest gainer of the evening, but it showed West Point wasn”t going to be denied its seventh state title in program history.
Led by 165 rushing yards by Thomas and 138 more by senior quarterback Justin Cox, West Point rolled to a 21-3 victory against Brookhaven in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I wanted to crank everybody up,” said Thomas, who had 35 carries, of his run. “We were playing a little down-tempo, and I had to crank things up. We wanted it. We just came out and played West Point football.”
Thomas said it sort of felt like the team dodged a bullet when Brookhaven fumbled on the West Point 2 on the opening possession of the game. He said the Green Wave made a couple of mistakes but regrouped in time to play their relentless style of straight-ahead football. The result was an 80-yard scoring drive and an 85-yard touchdown journey in the first half that gave West Point control.
Just when you get used to Thomas battering you up the middle, Cox can use his speed to burn you on the outside. The one-two punch helped the Green Wave rush for 325 yards on 61 carries. West Point (14-1) dominated the time of possession, holding the ball 29 minutes, 1 second compared to 18:59 for Brookhaven (9-5).
“We were really fired up. We wanted the ball off the top, so when we got the ball we were ready and we had our momentum and we fired off and hit them in the mouth,” senior offensive lineman Lederrius Taylor said.
Taylor said Thomas” run in which he lowered his helmet and ran over a defender — a la former Oakland Raiders running back Bo Jackson did to former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth — got the Green Wave hopping.
“It pumped us all the way up,” Taylor said. “We got real, real hype when we saw that. They lined up wrong and there was a big hole over there. He and the safety were one on one and he ran him over.”
Taylor admitted the Green Wave slowed down after the first two drives and the momentum lagged, but he said the team responded coming out of halftime and looked like the team that started the game.
Senior running back Tommy Keys admitted Brookhaven”s defense gave West Point trouble in the second and third quarters. He said the Panthers pinched really hard and were “blowing it up in the middle.”
A focused halftime chat rectified matters.
“We just challenged the offensive line and said the running backs were going to get the job tonight,” Keys said.
The defense didn”t want to be outdone. Led by senior linebacker Deismon Robinson, West Point regrouped from Brookhaven”s opening drive and surrendered only a 22-yard field goal by Dewey Stailey to end the first half.
“The defense played lights out in the first half and great in the second half,” Keys said. “The best defense is having your offense on the field and running the clock.”
One could argue the best defense is having Robinson rush the quarterback.
Robinson”s brother played linebacker, and wore the same number, 26, for West Point in 2008, which is why Deismon earned the nickname “Little Dae Dae.” The nickname soon was shortened to “Dae Dae,” maybe because it packs a bigger punch.
Robinson said the West Point defense was motivated by discussion on Internet websites that said that unit was going to let the team down. Instead, the defense challenged the offense for the most dominating performance of the evening, holding the Panthers to 140 yards total offense.
Robinson delivered two of the biggest plays of the evening. He sacked quarterback Duwone Harris for a 7-yard loss on first-and-10 from the Brookhaven 31 in the third quarter. Two plays later, he tripped up Harris on a running play that left Brookhaven 1 yard shy of a first down.
“I felt like I wasn”t going as hard as I could and I had to step up and be a player,” Robinson said. “I had to go real hard and make some plays.”
The Green Wave offense gladly took possession after a punt and executed with an assassin”s precision.
Just for good measure, Robinson had another sack on Brookhaven”s next to last possession to all but seal the victory.
“He is a sack master,” Keys said. “He was everywhere.”
Said West Point coach Chris Chambless, “He has been unbelievable in his time here. We”re going to miss him. We”re going to miss all of him. He plays his tail off. He has a great time when he plays football.”
Robinson”s ability to be all over the field helped contain Harris, who led the Panthers with 79 rushing yards.
Don”t let his speed fool you, though, because just like Thomas he packs a wallop, which is a trademark of championship teams at West Point High.
“I guess they started to get more and more respect for our defense after we started stopping their run,” Robinson said. “We knew if we stopped their quarterback we were pretty much going to have the game.”
“I had to step up and be a player. It is my senior year and I had to go out hard.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.