For the second straight week, the West Point Green Wave needed to turn away a last-second two-point conversion in order to stay unbeaten in district play.
One week after surviving a 22-20 scare against Oxford, the defending 5A state champs found themselves in a similar dogfight Friday night, as homestanding Lake Cormorant scored with 1:53 left in the game to close to within a point.
Eschewing the chance at tying the game, Cormorant went for the win, and West Point defensive back Jaquille White forced an incomplete pass to help the Green Wave escape again, this time with a 28-27 win.
â€śWe keep getting everybodyâ€™s best shot,â€ť said West Point head coach Chris Chambless. â€śThis division has gotten a lot better since last season, and every week is tough. My hats goes off to Lake Cormorant, but also to my guys. It hasnâ€™t been pretty, but my guys are fighters. And we keep scratching and clawing to get these wins.â€ť
The 1-point margin of victory belies West Pointâ€™s offensive effort, the Waveâ€™s best of the season.
West Point held the football for the majority of the second half, using two clock-eating drives to seemingly take control of a game that was deadlocked at 14 at the half.
West Point used a 15-play, 89-yard drive to take the lead midway through the third quarter, then attempted to salt the game away with a 17-play, 71-yard drive in the fourth. When the Green Waveâ€™s 26-yard field goal attempt sailed wide with just over three minutes to go, Lake Cormorant had life.
Three plays later, quarterback Mike Williams hit wideout Jordan Taylor on a crossing route and Taylor did the rest, sprinting 78 yards for a score to cut the lead to 28-27 and give the Gators a chance to take the lead with the ill-fated 2-point attempt.
â€śTheyâ€™ve got a quarterback who puts the ball where it needs to be and a receiver that will probably be in a statewide all-star game,â€ť said Chambless. â€śThis is not a team we took lightly, they were just a good football team.â€ť
Offensively, the Green Wave executed well Friday night, collecting a season-high 481 yards and 26 first downs. The Wave never punted, and held the football for 20 of the second halfâ€™s 24 minutes. Despite the offensive onslaught, the Wave was pushed to the brink once again, winning its second straight game by two points or less.
â€śThe truth of the matter is that every team in this division has gotten better since last year,â€ť said Chambless. â€śLook at this team tonight. Last year, we beat them pretty easily, but they were all juniors last year. This year, theyâ€™ve got some senior leadership, and they are a pretty good football team.â€ťâ€ť
Early on, neither team was able to get on track, as the two sides traded possessions out of the gate. After a scoreless first quarter, West Point struck first, as senior tailback LaKenderick Thomas capped an 8-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run with 11:05 to go in the half, his first of two on the night. Sophomore kicker Eric Lemus added the PAT, his first of four in the game, to give West Point a 7-0 lead.
As it did all night, Lake Cormorant answered the West Point score, this time on a Jamond Scott 12-yard scoring sprint to tie the score at 7-7 with 9:05 left in the second quarter.
The two teams would trade touchdowns in the remainder of the second quarter, with West Pointâ€™s coming via a 1-yard plunge by Jacoby Lee, and Lake Cormorantâ€™s coming courtesy of a 14-yard pass from QB Mike Williams to wideout Andre Anderson. Cormorantâ€™s TD followed a controversial pass interference call against West Point, which nullified a Green Wave interception and kept LCâ€™s drive alive.
â€śI thought our character was really tested by the circumstances tonight,â€ť said Chambless. â€śAnd everybody, from the coaching staff to the players, kept their heads about them and got the job done.â€ť
With the game tied at the half, West Pointâ€™s offense asserted itself in the third quarter, opening the second-half with the 15-play, 89-yard march, which was capped off by a 2-yard score from Thomas.
Less than a minute later, Lake Cormorant tied the score once again, this time moving down the field in just four plays to set up a 24-yard strike from Williams to Taylor.
Tailback Tez Pulliam finished West Pointâ€™s scoring near the end of the third, breaking off a 31-yard touchdown run to put the Green Wave up 28-21 entering the final quarter.
In the fourth, West Point held the ball for nearly nine minutes, but the big play from Williams to Taylor gave Lake Cormorant the shot to take the lead in the gameâ€™s final minutes.
When the 2-point conversion failed, the Gators attempted an unsuccessful onside kick, then watched helplessly as West Point ran out the clock to move to 7-1 on the year and 4-0 in Division 1-5A play.
On the night, Thomas led West Pointâ€™s rushing attack, which collected a season-high 361 yards. Thomas had 25 carries for 157 yards and two scores, while QB Justin Cox added 15 carries for 132 yards. Defensively, Monty McIlwain and Deismon Robinson each had quarterback sacks while Leâ€™Erick Walker and Stephon Branham had interceptions.
Still unbeaten in district play, West Point returns home this Friday night to play Saltillo, a game that will serve as West Pointâ€™s homecoming contest.