WEST POINT — Another lesson learned.
The West Point High School football typically doesn”t suffer back-to-back losses and then learn from the mistakes in those setbacks.
But that”s the situation the 2011 Green Wave are in after a 37-17 loss to South Panola on Saturday night at Hamblin Stadium.
Marcus Dixon rushed 23 times for 101 yards and three touchdowns, and the South Panola defense held West Point to three points in the second half to win the battle of two-time defending state champions in the season opener for both teams.
“I had a lot of questions answered tonight,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said. “I know we have to clean up some things, like third-down situations, and little things that young guys will learn as we go on.
“That is a tough team right there. Everybody knows that. They are big, strong, and fast, and we didn”t back down. We played hard, and that”s all we can ask from a West Point team.”
Trailing 24-17 with 10 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game following a 34-yard field goal by Eric Lemus, West Point held South Panola and got the ball back with a little more than six minutes to play. But Deshawn Lindsay intercepted a pass by running back Tez Lane. Five plays later, Dixon burst 5 yards to make it 30-17.
On West Point”s next possession, South Panola recovered a fumble by quarterback DeQuinten Spraggins and then needed two plays for Dixon to punch the ball home from 6 yards.
“Hats off to West Point,” South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. “They are a really tough, physical group of kids. That first half was a slugfest. I thought in the second half we might have a little bit more depth than them, and I thought that helped us a good bit.”
Pogue credited his defense for rising to the challenge in the second half. Aside from a 46-yard run by Aeris Williams in the third quarter, South Panola routinely got penetration into the backfield and disrupted the Green Wave ground game.
“I thought it was outstanding,” Pogue said of his team”s defense in the second half. “We gave one run right off the bat in the third quarter when we didn”t fill the right gap. We started three sophomores on defense, and we just had a little mental bust there. Overall, physically I thought they took the game over in the second half. Our defensive line caused some turnovers.”
West Point, the two-time defending Class 5A state champion, stayed with South Panola, the two-time defending state champion in Class 6A, in the first half. A 12-yard pass from Spraggins to Mario Virges in the second quarter helped tie the game at 7. After falling behind 14-7 on a 28-yard run by Antonio Connor, Lane went 89 yards on the ensuing kickoff to help tie the game at 14.
But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by West Point on the kickoff gave South Panola even better field position on its next drive. Quarterback Tevis Flowers made the Green Wave pay by hitting Ron Taylor on a 31-yard pass that went for a touchdown despite the West Point defender being whistled for pass interference. The touchdown came with 27 seconds left before halftime.
South Panola used a 15-play to open the third quarter that resulted in a 28-yard field goal Clayton Sibley that made it 24-14. Lemus” field goal was all West Point could muster after that before South Panola capitalized on the late mistakes.
“It is a tough loss,” senior offensive lineman Alex Hall said. “A loss period is tough, but we played 110 percent, as hard as we could all game, and we really can”t hang our heads about anything.
“If you play hard and work hard, good things are going to come. We had a few mistakes, but we”re not going to hang our heads and cry about it.”
West Point coach Chris Chambless stressed his players needed to keep their heads up, much like he did after a 21-20 loss to Louisville last week in the second annual Fall High School Jamboree at Mississippi State”s Davis Wade Stadium. That loss came in two quarters, and while the latest setback came in a four-quarter matchup, Chambless said the Green Wave had plenty of lessons they could learn from this game, too.
“If we get a couple of breaks and take away a couple turnovers and some third-down conversions they made, it is a different ballgame,” Chambless said. “But you have to learn from that and you have to fix it.”
Senior linebacker Charles Heard, who missed the Louisville game after being involved in a car accident, said he worked hard during the week to get stronger. He said he felt a little sting in his arm Friday night but he didn”t let it get to him.
“We were looking for the victory, but know we didn”t get it,” Heard said. “We”re still strong. We”re all brothers.
“We have to keep our heads up. No matter who we play against, we have to keep our heads up. We know we”re going to get hit in the mouth, and we”re going to go right back and hit them in the mouth.”
Hall echoed those thoughts and said West Point needed to continue to work hard. He also credited South Panola”s defense for making things tough in the second half.
“Their defense came out ready to play in the second half,” Hall said. “They knew we were going to be a good team to compete with them and that they had to step it up a notch. We just didn”t step it up enough.
“We have 14 (games) left. That”s all we”re going to worry about is those 14 games. This game is just going to roll off our back and we”ll worry about our next game against Columbus (on Sept. 2).”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.