On the heels of back-to-back losses to the state’s top two teams, West Point High’s football team entered Friday night’s meeting with Columbus High in search of a little confidence.
The Green Wave found it.
Quarterback Dason Thomas passed for a pair of touchdowns and the West Point defense did not allow a score as the Green Wave scored the final 28 points of Friday night’s game at Columbus to turn a 7-7 tie midway through the third quarter into a 35-7 blowout win.
“It looked to me like we got a little bit of our swagger back,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless, whose team improved to 2-2 on the season. “We needed something good to happen. We had a tough game last week at Starkville and we just haven’t had many good things happen this year. So to come out and play like we did in the second half tonight, that’s good for our football team.”
Nowhere was West Point’s recaptured swagger more evident than on the defensive side of the ball. Gone is the defense that gave up an average of 34 points per game a year ago, and in its place stands a fast, physical unit that completely dominated the Columbus offense in the second half to trigger the 28-point run. West Point’s defense forced two turnovers on the night, sacked Columbus QB Jay Jay Swanigan twice and did not allow a touchdown.
“It was big for us to come out and make a statement,” said West Point linebacker Kadarius Forside, who sacked Swanigan once and led the Wave with 12 tackles. “Those last two weeks, that wasn’t our kind of football. So we had to come out here tonight and play smashmouth, play the way we know how to play.”
Though Columbus managed 155 total yards in the first half, the West Point defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone and the Wave enjoyed a 7-0 halftime lead. It was in the second half that the Green Wave defense began to dominate, limiting the Falcons to just four second-half first downs and punctuating the 28-point win with a 98-yard interception return for a score by cornerback Jalen Lee.
“I was in the back of the end zone and I read the quarterback’s eyes,” said Lee. “As soon as I caught it, I saw there was nobody in front of me. That’s a great feeling.”
West Point’s second half surge salted away a game that was nip-and-tuck through two-and-a-half quarters. Columbus (0-3) had little trouble moving the ball in the first half, reaching the West Point red zone on three of its first four possessions. But a pair of turnovers on downs and a fumble inside the West Point 10 kept the Falcons out of the end zone, and Columbus would not score until a 65-yard interception return by Alex Lipscomb early in the third quarter.
“We are still a work in progress,” said Columbus head coach Randal Montgomery. “Every time we’d take a step forward, we’d take two steps back. But there were positives.”
Thomas, who connected with fullback Trevino Harris from 25 yards away for the only score of the first half, seemed to get better in the wake of Lipscomb’s interception return for a score. On the Wave’s ensuing possession, Thomas found senior wide receiver Steffon Moore for a 33-yard touchdown, a strike that gave West Point the lead for good.
“It’s all about moving on to the next play,” said Thomas. “I really didn’t dwell on that interception, it’s just something that happened. I felt like my team needed me to focus on the next play, and that’s what we did.”
Senior Demontae Rush would add a pair of rushing touchdowns, the first from 28 yards away and the second from eight, as West Point pulled away. Lee’s pick six in the game’s final minute put the finishing touches on the Wave’s first road win of the season.
“Proud of the kids, proud of the way we bounced back,” said Chambless. “When they tied the score, we could have gone in the wrong direction. But we didn’t. That says a lot about this group of kids.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat