WEST POINT — They’d talked about the comeback all week.
By kickoff of Friday night’s game at Hamblin Stadium, the West Point High School football team knew plenty about visiting Lafayette’s resurgence after falling behind 23-7 last week against Oxford. The Commodores rattled off 27 unanswered points for a victory in their crosstown rivalry game and entered Friday’s MHSAA Class 5A, Region 1 opener riding high on a big win.
“It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says: They’re going to keep playing and they’re going to keep playing hard, and we’ve got to match that intensity,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said.
It took a while, but after a field goal late in the third quarter put the Green Wave up 17-0, Lafayette made its promised move. A first down — the Commodores’ first — was quickly followed by two more. Lafayette had possession at the West Point 26 as the fourth quarter began.
But like every other time Friday, the Green Wave was ready.
Senior linebacker Chris Dean dropped Lafayette running back Lukas Stupal with a big hit on one play, and West Point recovered a fumble by the Commodores’ Trikyus Woodall on the next.
“They always seem to come up and make a play,” Chambless said.
The Green Wave (2-2, 1-0 Region 1-5A) did so time and time again in a 17-0 shutout of the Commodores (3-2, 0-1), a win that could have major significance later this fall. West Point faced Lafayette in the regular season as well as the playoffs in both 2018 and 2019, winning all four games.
Another rematch seems all but likely, Chambless said, and Friday’s win will help out his team down the line.
“You always want to keep that home-field advantage,” he said. “We know we’re going to play them again. Lafayette’s a really good football team. The ball bounced our way tonight, and we’ve got to make sure it keeps bouncing our way.”
West Point was indeed the beneficiary of fumble luck on several important plays. Colin Ferguson dived on a teammate’s muffed punt return after multiple Lafayette defenders failed to secure the football; West Point later recovered its own fumble inside the 5-yard line to save a likely touchdown.
There were other miscues. After a snap whizzed by sophomore quarterback Kahnen Daniels for a big loss on first down, the Green Wave found itself with third-and-46. (Unsurprisingly, West Point didn’t convert.)
But by and large, West Point played a strong game on offense and a brilliant one on defense. The Green Wave forced seven consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game before a first down with 1:40 left in the third quarter snapped the streak. Even then, Woodall’s fumble a few minutes later kept the Commodores off the board, and they never got on it.
“I feel like the defense played excellent,” West Point running back Keshawn Henley said. “I’m happy for the defense more than myself.”
It’s high praise coming from Henley, who shot through the middle for a 69-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to double what had been a 7-0 lead. The junior splits carries with Daniels, senior Cameron Young and fullback Jaquontis Harris in a crowded backfield; none of them seems to mind.
“They try to give each other the carries,” Chambless said. “That’s how unselfish they are.”
Take Henley’s praise for Daniels, who made several dynamic plays Friday night. He ran through a Lafayette defender for a 7-yard touchdown run in the first quarter; later in the period, he shook his way out of two surefire sacks and scrambled for a big first down.
“I love him in the backfield,” Henley said. “He plays just like one of us — like he’s a senior, like he’s been on the field.”
That’s especially impressive considering Daniels has had limited time in which to prove his worth. West Point had to forfeit its first two games because of COVID-19 cases, beat Noxubee County 38-19 on Sept. 10 and was off last week.
But Henley said it still felt like the Green Wave had been on the field every week this season, and the way they played Friday, it sure seemed like it.
To Chambless, that’s fitting. The coach said there are no excuses. Against Lafayette, none was needed.
“We’ve still got to go out and play regardless of whatever the circumstances are,” Chambless said.
West Point 17, Lafayette 0
Lafayette (3-2) 0 0 0 0 — 0
West Point (2-2) 7 7 3 0 — 17
WP — Kahnen Daniels 7 run (Alex Harper kick), 5:34
WP — Keshawn Henley 69 run (Harper kick), 2:57
WP — Harper 23 FG, 1:54
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.