WEST POINT — Everitt Cunningham has heard it for years.
The talk never gets old when you’re a member of the West Point High School football team. It centers on one simple but elusive proposition: Perfection.
The Green Wave drill in hopes of achieving it every week. The work might get tedious, but West Point’s attention to detail is meant to wear opponents down. The constant pounding has helped the program win seven state titles and earn a reputation for being one of the state’s most physical teams.
But that attention to detail reared its head in a most surprising way last week, and Cunningham was on the receiving end. The senior defensive lineman caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Murphy in the third quarter to help push West Point to a 40-7 victory against Lake Cormorant in the Mississippi High School Activities (MHSAA) Class 5A North State title game at McCallister Field at Hamblin Stadium.
“Coach always preaches perfection,” Cunningham said. “We have been fighting for a state championship for a long time. It is really our time at the moment. We have fallen short the last couple of years, but we are having a good year this year.”
Cunningham added two sacks and a pass deflection later in the half to send West Point (13-1) to a matchup against Laurel (13-1) in the Class 5A State championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium.
For his accomplishments, Cunningham is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
West Point’s road to the state title game wasn’t easy. The Green Wave struggled offensively in the first half against the Gators (10-5) and managed only an interception return by Rasson Carr to forge a 7-all tie at halftime.
Cunningham said the players received a “real salty” talk from the coaches at halftime. He said the result was a different level of intensity in the second half. A different level of execution accompanied the energy on the West Point sideline. Cunningham said the Green Wave regrouped at halftime and came out and took care of business in the final 24 minutes.
“Once we got on top of them we couldn’t let up,” Cunningham said. “Once we put our foot on their neck, we had to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Cunningham said his touchdown was only the first step. He said the defense fed off rushing scores by Murphy, Clayton Knight, Chris Calvert, and Andre Lane. He said the Green Wave have blossomed this season because the offense always has the defense’s back, and vice versa. He said he and his teammates knew Lake Cormorant was going to put up a fight after losing to West Point 39-17 in the regular season. Still, he said everyone was confident because they knew they had tradition on their side.
That didn’t make the feeling following the game any less special. After all, it has been six years since West Point won its last championship. Cunningham and his classmates have worked hard to try to change that. Losses to Oxford the past two seasons ended West Point’s season too early. This season, the team has overcome injuries and a loss to Starkville early in the season to re-claim a chance to play for a title.
Murphy might have said it best when he said the Green Wave have to “finish that we started.”
Cunningham agreed and said Friday he didn’t want to let the feeling of winning a North State championship go to waste.
“I have been waiting on this since my ninth-grade year,” Cunningham said. “I am a senior now, so I just have to come out on top and get that ring. It has been six years. It is really past due for a ring, and we are going to be the class to bring it home.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.