Not much about the 2020 season has been normal for coach Chris Chambless and the West Point football team.
The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened health and safety, delaying football season two weeks and jeopardizing further gameplay ever since. And West Point hasn’t been its typical dominant self: The Green Wave went an uncharacteristic 7-3 in the regular season, including back-to-back losses to Lake Cormorant and Grenada. In the past four seasons, West Point has never lost more than one game in a single campaign.
“It’s been a weird year,” Chambless said. “I think every coach in the state of Mississippi will tell you that it’s not been normal. Nothing about it’s been normal except Friday nights when you get to play.”
But come this Saturday night, one thing, at least, will look familiar: West Point taking the field with a state championship on the line.
Vying for a record 12th MHSAA crown, the Green Wave (10-3) face West Jones (11-2) in the Class 5A title contest at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. With a chance to win their fifth straight Class 5A championship, West Point can tie South Panola (2003-2007) for the longest streak among Mississippi public schools.
“It’s always an honor and a pleasure to be able to get to go play for a state championship,” Chambless said.
After West Point rolled to the past four Class 5A crowns, Chambless is certainly speaking from experience. The Green Wave went 58-3 from 2016-2019 to claim the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th state championships in school history.
And that means West Point’s opponent Saturday night will be a familiar one. The Green Wave have only played the Mustangs once, but both teams remember the contest well — it was for the 2018 title. Final score: West Point 27, West Jones 12.
“It was a tough challenge,” Chambless said.
Perhaps it will be even tougher Saturday when the Laurel-based Mustangs ride into Mississippi’s capital city. Many of the players who took the field for West Jones two years ago in Hattiesburg will do so again, and they’ll do so with the “revenge factor” buried somewhere in the back of their mind.
“There’s a lot of guys who were on that team who are playing for them now,” Chambless said. “We know they will present a huge task for us.”
Chief among them? Quarterback Alan Follis, who has improved considerably since facing the Green Wave as a sophomore. Follis is a conventional pocket passer but has been known to take off on designed runs behind strong lead blockers and a staid offensive line when the situation calls for it.
“He’s a better runner now,” Chambless said. “He’s obviously got a stronger arm. He’s making better reads. He’s a better all-around quarterback than he was two years ago, for sure.”
West Jones running back Kentrel Pruitt is another weapon at the Mustangs’ disposal, and Chambless knows what he provides — a steady presence in the run game with the ability to make a home run play.
“They need three yards, he gets four,” Chambless said. “He takes care of the football and keeps the chains moving when they need him to.”
And when they line up across from players like Follis and Pruitt, the Green Wave’s plan of attack on defense won’t change.
“We’ve got to tackle well, and we’ve got to control the line of scrimmage,” Chambless said.
After all, why mess with success when that plan has gotten West Point to five straight state title games? What the Green Wave do is working, and even in a (relatively) down year, it’s gotten West Point to the precipice of where it hoped to be.
That, of course, is on high school football’s biggest stage, under the lights — even in a season that has been so improbable.
“That’s our goal every year,” Chambless said.
Why not this one?
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.