By Brandon Walker
Daily Times Leader
For the second straight year, the West Point Green Wave had a chance to clinch the Division 1-5A championship with a win over Clarksdale.
And for the second straight year, that’s exactly what West Point did – but it wasn’t easy.
West Point weathered an early offensive storm and fought back from a halftime deficit to remain perfect in district play with a 26-17 Friday night, clinching a No. 1 seed in the Class 5A playoffs, which start in two weeks.
“It is never easy to come into Clarksdale and get a win, I don’t care who you are,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless, who watched his team improve to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in division play. “Clarksdale always has athletes, and they will get after you. They got after us tonight, but just kept fighting and kept scratching, and we were able to get a win.”
Clarksdale (4-6, 2-4) came out swinging early, marching down the field on a 65-yard drive after taking the opening kickoff before West Point’s defense stiffened and forced the Wildcats to settle for a 30-yard field goal from kicker Christian Stephney.
Trailing 3-0, West Point answered back without having to field its offense, as sophomore tailback Tez Pulliam struck with an electrifying 84-yard kickoff return for a score, his first of the year.
“Some guys have a chance to take it all the way every time they touch the ball,” said Chambless, “and Tez can be one of those guys.”
Pulliam’s kickoff return gave West Point a 6-3 lead, which wouldn’t last long.
Midway through the second quarter, Stephney once again gave the Wildcats a lead, this time with a 74-yard touchdown catch from quarter Hason Smith. After Stephney’s PAT, Clarksdale led 10-6, which also served as the halftime score.
In the second half, West Point’s offense began to click, as senior quarterback Justin Cox engineered three touchdown drives, two of which he capped with touchdown runs of his own.
Cox gave West Point a brief lead early in the third quarter with a 5-yard run, but Clarksdale answered with a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead into the fourth quarter.
Trailing entering the fourth quarter for the first time this season, West Point owned the final period, scoring twice to escape Clarksdale with the win.
Cox gave the Green Wave the lead for good with 10:31 to go with a 45-yard scoring strike, which put the Wave up by the score of 19-17.
Six minutes later, freshman tailback Aries Williams finished the scoring with a 1-yard dive into the end zone to give West Point the 26-17 advantage.
The win was West Point’s 13th straight in Division 1-5A play and clinches West Point’s second-straight division crown. The Wave went 7-0 in division play en route to the 2009 Class 5A state championship, and can equal that 7-0 mark with a regular-season ending win at Hernando Friday night.
Despite the perfect mark inside the division, it hasn’t been easy for West Point this season.
A year after beating 6 of 7 division opponents by more than 20 points, West Point has had four games decided by 10-points or less in the last five weeks.
“Every team in 5A North has gotten better,” said Chambless. “That’s why we have to keep getting better. At the same time, our kids keep finding ways to win. Even when we are down, our kids don’t panic. They listen to us and they figure out a way to turn it around. That’s a great trait for a team to have.”