By Bryan Davis
The Green Wave could return home the day after Thanksgiving to play either New Hope or Ridgeland in the North half championship game. The only thing standing in their way of defending that title is the Oxford Chargers.
Right now, the Green Wave players and coaches are not even thinking about Thanksgiving week. Their minds are on tonight’s game that will feature an 11-1 West Point team that finished 7-0 in district play against a Chargers team that finished the season 9-3 and 5-2 in league action.
Both are coming off opening round playoff wins, West Point’s a home victory against Provine and Oxford’s a win against Pearl.
The two teams will be seeing each other for the second time in the 2010 season. The first meeting saw West Point barely slip past the Chargers 22-20. Oxford’s star quarterback, Guy Cameron Billups, has thrown the ball with great precision since that meeting, and he and his Chargers are hoping their home field advantage will lead to a Green Wave elimination tonight.
“We know they’re ticked off,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless. “We know they’re going to bring their A-Game and pull out all the stops to try to beat us, and we’re just going to have to be ready for them.”
The Chargers put together quite a run after that West Point game, winning five in a row, including the 49-14 win over Pearl. That is largely due to the play of Billups, a quarterback Chambless describes as “poised, accurate and smart.”
The Green Wave certainly did not catch Billups on his best night back on October 8. He threw for 294 yards, but he had his lowest completion percentage of the year.
Since then, he has thrown 1,085 yards of his 2,788 total this season. He’s thrown 14 of his 32 touchdowns down the stretch, with at least a .500 completion percentage in each of those games.
Against Pearl, Billups was 12-for-14 in the air, for 267 yards and four touchdown passes.
“They’re clicking a lot better,” Chambless said. “Their throwing and catching is clicking a lot better than it was the first time through. They did a pretty good job the first time we played them, so we know we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Green Wave have been no strangers to road trips this season, taking the longest of anyone in their division to Daytona Beach, Fla. in week two. Chambless, however, says no matter how long or short the trip, there is always cause for concern.
“Anytime you have to load up the bus and go play a high school football game, it concerns you,” the coach said. “It concerns you at home. You just have to stay grounded and work the kids as hard you can and hope for the best.”
While the Green Wave will be facing a tall order in the Oxford throwing and catching departments, the Chargers have to face tough group themselves. They have to face a West Point team that has also been improving over the last several weeks as well.
“We’re finishing drives better than we did early on,” Chambless said. “We’re covering better. We try to improve all phases each week.”
They have been able to do that for the most part in the second half thanks to a healthy cast of characters. For the last three weeks, LaKenderic Thomas has been the work horse, guiding the run game for the Green Wave.
He has not been alone, however, as sophomore Tez Pulliam and senior quarterback Justin Cox have also attacked their opponents on the ground with efficiency.
“Having him (Thomas) along with other guys on the team makes it better,” Chambless said. “He knows he doesn’t have to do it by himself. He’s willing to sacrifice his body and to sacrifice himself for his team. The guy lined up next to him is willing to do the same thing. He’s just one of the many players we have that can make plays for us, and in the last three weeks, he’s played really well for us.”
Pulliam put in 81 yards and a touchdown last week against Provine.
“Tez has been a good surprise for us, being a sophomore coming up,” Chambless said. “You never know what you’re going to get with a sophomore coming up.”
Chambless said the Green Wave have been getting notable efforts out of sophomores Freddy Reed and Mario Virges too.
This will be the third time in the last 10 years that West Point and Oxford have met in an elimination game. Much to Oxford’s displeasure, West Point has been the victor in all three post-season meetings.
“You look at every playoff game you play as being a rivalry,” Chambless said. “When you play the same teams over and over, then it gets to be more of a heated rivalry, so to speak.”
As far as preparing for the game goes, the Green Wave were more focused in practice this week, according to Chambless, noting that practice was more up-tempo this time around.
“I think the preparedness we’ve got is the motivation to keep playing,” Chambless said. “We’re motivated to keep playing and playing the best we can because in the playoffs, if you get beat, you’re out. Our guys have that refuse to lose attitude. They don’t want to go home, and they’re not ready to go home yet.”
Kickoff tonight is in Oxford at 7 p.m.