WEST POINT — West Point led Neshoba Central by a score of 34-21 midway through the fourth quarter Friday night, but a late push from the Rockets changed things.
After a quick score and some stalwart defense from Neshoba Central, the visitors advanced down the field with steady determination. An explosive play followed by a late hit penalty against the Green Wave gave the Rockets the ball at the 15-yard line, and Elijah Ruffin carried the ball into the end zone from 3 yards out with 1:45 left in the game.
But rather than opting to kick and tie the game, Neshoba Central chose to attempt a two-point conversion to take a one-point lead. The ball was snapped, Ruffin tried to push up the middle, and he was met by a wall of Green Wave defenders that stopped him short.
West Point (10-2) had stood strong when it mattered most, holding off Neshoba Central (8-4) by a score of 34-33 to advance to the MHSAA Class 5A semifinals.
West Point coach Chris Chambless told his players postgame he has been through many similar games in his 15 years leading the Green Wave, but Friday’s was among the most memorable.
“I told them I’ve been through a lot of these games, same type of games,” Chambless said. “This is by far one of the best ones I’ve been through.”
The Green Wave’s final touchdown and ultimate game-winner came unconventionally as senior Ahmari Cox played his part in a well-executed trick play and found open quarterback Quinterion Tillman- Evans downfield for the 48-yard score. Although the ensuing kick was no good, the Green Wave pushed its total on the night to 34 points — just enough to win it all.
Tillman-Evans brought the heat and did the near-impossible on the field. Aside from his receiving touchdown, the junior added one passing touchdown and two rushing touchdowns to his stacked stat line. He recorded the team’s first score of the game on a 14-yard rush with 5:38 remaining in the first half to help his team tie the game at seven points apiece — Neshoba Central’s Mehki Gaddis ran for a 52-yard score earlier in the frame.
Tillman-Evans’ other rushing score came with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The junior punched his way into the end zone from 3 yards out to give the Green Wave a 28-14 lead.
Although he made big plays all night, Tillman-Evans had the most important score with 1:37 remaining before halftime. Neshoba Central had just added a quick scoop and score due to the quick thinking of Beau Holley, who returned a fumble for a 78-yard touchdown and pushed the Rockets to a 14-7 lead just before halftime.
As soon as West Point regained possession of the football, Tillman-Evans found wideout Jalon Cooperwood downfield for the 78-yard score. The extra point attempt failed, but the big play helped the home team regain momentum and head into the locker room with just a one-point deficit.
Chambless was impressed with Tillman-Evans’ performance and the way he has continuously contributed to the team throughout the season.
“When his number’s called, he can give us the best he’s got, and he did that tonight,” Chambless said.
Kahnen Daniels, too, had a solid night both on the ground and through the air. The junior found the end zone on the first play of the second half with a 79-yard rush that helped West Point to its first lead of the night. To go along with his touchdown, Daniels carried the ball a team-high 23 times for 209 yards while completing both of his passes for 51 yards.
Ultimately, the team’s victory did not come without adversity. The Green Wave offensive line had nine pre-snap penalties that seemingly made the contest a lot closer than it could have been. Neshoba Central had its standout in Ruffin, who recorded each of the team’s three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. His first trip to the end zone came in the form of a 3-yard rush less than a minute after the beginning of the fourth.
Ruffin also added a 35-yard receiving touchdown from quarterback Will Williams on a crucial fourth-down play late in the game.
West Point will travel to Vicksburg High School on Friday in the Class 5A semifinals. The winner will travel to Hattiesburg for the state title game against either Gautier or Picayune.
West Point 34, Neshoba Central 33
Neshoba Central (8-4) 0 14 0 19 — 33
West Point (10-2) 0 13 15 6 — 34
NC — Mehki Gaddis 52 run (John Parker Hancock kick), clock 8:24
WP — Quinterion Tillman-Evans 14 run (Corbin Hendricks kick), clock 5:38
NC — Beau Holley 77 fumble recovery (Hancock kick), clock 1:47
WP — Jalon Cooperwood 78 pass from Tillman-Evans (kick failed), clock 1:37
WP — Kahnen Daniels 72 run (Daniels run), clock 11:49
WP — Tillman-Evans 3 run (Hendricks kick), clock 2:05
NC — Elijah Ruffin 3 run (Hancock kick), clock 11:05
WP — Tillman-Evans 48 pass from Ahmari Cox (kick failed), clock 9:21
NC — Ruffin 35 pass from Will Williams (kick failed), clock 5:43
NC — Ruffin 3 run (run failed), clock 1:45
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