WEST POINT — For three-and-a-half quarters, the West Point and South Panola high school football teams stood toe-to-toe and traded punches like they were in a classic heavyweight fight.
The Tigers landed the last blow.
Senior Darrell Henderson scored on a 13-yard run with a little less than four minutes to play, and South Panola’s defense forced West Point’s third turnover on the ensuing possession to escape with a 14-10 victory.
“It was tough, very physical,” said Henderson, whose game-winning touchdown followed a 43-yard connection between quarterback Tyler Pogue and wide receiver Demetrius Market. “It’s always a battle against West Point. We love playing them, and they love playing us because it’s so physical. I just saw some daylight on the outside and I was able to get to the end zone.”
Henderson’s run capped South Panola’s only drive that gained more than 20 yards, and punctuated a come-from-behind win in a game that saw both defenses turn in dominating performances.
West Point’s defense limited South Panola to 225 yards and 12 first downs. South Panola forced three interceptions from senior quarterback Dason Thomas, including two in the South Panola red zone.
The game-winning drive, which spanned 61 yards in six plays, came after West Point kicker Oscar Lemus gave the Green Wave a 10-7 lead with 6 minutes, 21 seconds remaining.
“We learned a lot about our team tonight,” said West Point coach Chris Chambless, whose team fell to 1-1 on the season. “Watching our defense play with the heart and effort they played with tonight, I couldn’t be more proud. That was a war. It’s frustrating to lose it, but like I told the kids, if we see that effort every Friday night, we’ll be OK.”
The teams, which have combined for 18 state championships, traded big special teams plays — and momentum — in the first half.
For West Point, that momentum came on the opening kickoff, which senior Lacequiu “Quincy” Starks returned 73 yards for a touchdown to help give West Point a 7-0 lead 13 seconds into the game.
South Panola responded before halftime, as junior Ryan Lee blocked a Lemus punt and recovered at the West Point 2-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Oluwain Hoskins that helped tied the score at halftime.
“They blocked the punt on us, which we can’t let happen,” Chambless said. “Then they hit the vertical route in the fourth quarter and score on the next play. Take away those two mistakes and we win the game, but you can’t take them away. You can only learn from them.”
Henderson, who rushed for 113 yards on 17 carries, saved the day for an offense that was turned away nearly every time by West Point’s defense, which has allowed one touchdown drive in two games.
“It’s an absolute battle every single times we play this team,” South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. “This is what high school football is all about, plain and simple. Two great programs that respect each other knocking each other around for four quarters. I’m proud of my kids because we got the win, but I hate it for their kids. Both teams played their hearts out.”
Starks led West Point with 63 yards on 28 carries, while senior quarterback Dason Thomas accounted for 153 yards — 103 passing, 40 rushing.
But three interceptions, including the game-clincher at midfield by Lee, sealed West Point’s fate.
“It hurts right now, but it’s supposed to,” West Point linebacker Tyler Logan said. “As long as this makes our team come together, we’ll be OK. I know South Panola leaves here respecting us as a team. And we respect them.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat