By Brandon Walker
Daily Times Leader
Beware, Class 5A contenders.....The defending champs just might have their swagger back.
On the heels of two straight last-second wins over Oxford and Lake Cormorant, the West Point Green Wave looked like a team hungry to return to championship form Friday night, completely dominating Division 1-5A foe Saltillo in a convincing 49-0 rout â€“ and it wasnâ€™t even that close.
â€śWe preached to them all week that we had to get that swagger, that edge back,â€ť said West Point head coach Chris Chambless, who watched his team earn its second shutout win of the season. â€śthe result was probably our best three days of practice weâ€™ve had all year. Because of that, i felt good coming into tonightâ€™s game.â€ť
With good reason. The Green Wave made good on their coachâ€™s positive vibes early and often Friday night, racing out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looking back. The Green Wave offense accumulated nearly 400 yards of offense in the first half, and scored on its first seven possessions of the game.
â€śOffensively, we were real crisp all week in practice, and that carried over into tonight,â€ť said Chambless.
The West Point offense wasted little time in asserting itself Friday night, collecting over 220 yards of offense in the first quarter alone. The Wave needed just over three minutes to break into the scoring column, as senior quarterback Justin Cox capped a 7-play, 57-yard opening drive with a 9-yard scoring strike to fellow senior Jamarius Tallie. Following the PAT by kicker Eric Lemus, West Point held a 7-0 lead with 8:54 to go in the opening quarter.
Cox and Tallie would connect again less than two minutes later, hooking up for a beautiful 43-yard touchdown pass on the initial play of West Pointâ€™s second drive, pushing the lead to 14-0 with 6:58 to go in the first quarter.
Senior tailback LaKendric Thomas scored his the first of his two touchdowns on the night to cap West Pointâ€™s third drive, this one a 4-play, 81-yard march that included a 71-yard sprint by Cox.
On the night, Cox was nearly flawless, completing 10-of-10 passes for 185 yards and three scores, the third being a 23-yard scoring toss to sophomore fullback Mario Virges, who bulled over a pair of Saltillo defenders to give West Point a 28-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
â€śOur passing game has been close all year, but for whatever reason, weâ€™ve had dropped passes or mistakes that keep us from being as good as weâ€™ve wanted to be,â€ť said Chambless. â€śTonight, we put it all together.â€ť
Cox also ran for 87 yards on three carries and finished the night with 272 yards of total offense.
Thomas would add his second touchdown run of the night on West Pointâ€™s next drive, which covered 78 yards in nine plays. The first four plays of the drive were all passes, setting up a 9-yard TD run by Thomas that pushed the lead to 35-0.
Backup quarterback DeQuinten Spraggins, who took the reins of the West Point offense late in the second quarter, finished West Pointâ€™s first-half scoring binge with a 1-yard plunge with 38 seconds to go in the half. After Lemus converted the PAT, West Point took a 42-0 lead into the halftime break.
â€śI thought our energy level was where it needed to be in the first half, and our younger kids did a good job of maintaining that energy in the second half,â€ť said Chambless.
West Point maintained control throughout Friday nightâ€™s contest, as the Green Wave defense never let Saltillo into scoring range. The Tigersâ€™ deepest penetration was the West Point 28-yard line, where the Wave D stopped a Saltillo drive midway through the third quarter.
Plenty of players were able to get experience in the win, including a plethora of young running backs. Ten different players carried the ball for West Point, including fullback Markario Sears, who tacked on West Pointâ€™s final touchdown with a 5-yard scoring run halfway through the fourth quarter. Senior Kwame Williams booted the extra point.
On the night, West Point finished with 520 yards of offense, including 329 on the ground and 191 through the air. Behind the 87 yards from Cox, Thomas had four carries for 50 yards and backup fullback Eric Johnson had two carries for 49.
Defensively, West Point held Saltillo to just 181 total yards on the night.
With the win, West Point moves to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in division play. The Wave now heads out on the road for the final two weeks of the season, traveling to Clarksdale Friday night before a season-ending trip to Hernando.