The Ridgeland Titans opened their first North state championship game with an 11-yard pass on their very first scrimmage against defending Class 5A state championship West Point Friday night.
After that brief moment of glory for Ridgeland, every highlight belonged to the Green Wave.
Senior tailback LaKenderic Thomas rushed for a career-high four touchdowns, quarterback Justin Cox accounted for three scores and the West Point defense turned in its finest performance of the season as West Point cruised to a convincing 47-0 win and clinched the ninth trip to play for a state championship in school history.
“It’s all mental. Our kids know that when we get out on the field with a chance to go to Jackson, we are supposed to take care of business and get the job done,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless, who has guided West Point to its second straight Class 5A title game appearance. “That’s exactly what these kids did tonight.”
So thorough was the domination that Ridgeland’s offense never crossed the West Point 40-yard line and collected only 20 total yards on the night. By contrast, the West Point offense scored on seven of its nine drives and accumulated 483 total yards.
Afterward, Ridgeland head coach Kenny Burton, who led the Titans to their greatest season in school history and finished with a 13-1 record, had little to say about the contest.
“West Point has a great football team,” said Burton, “and I hope they go down to Jackson and win a state championship.”
If Friday night’s effort is any indication, a seventh state championship is a distinct possibility for the Wave, who have taken their game to a new level in each round of the 2010 playoffs. In their last seven playoff games, West Point has an average margin of victory of 28 points, including Friday night’s whitewashing of Ridgeland.
West Point took control early, following the lead of a senior-led defense that has reached a new level in the postseason. On Ridgeland’s second play from scrimmage, senior defensive end Vontarrius Dora recovered a fumble by Titans QB Nick Johnson, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the night.
West Point’s offense opened the scoring one drive later, as Thomas capped a 9-play, 46-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring run, his first of four on the night. After Eric Lemus added the PAT, West Point led 7-0.
West Point completely took the air out of Ridgeland with a dominating second quarter performance, as the Wave added four more touchdowns and took a 33-0 lead into halftime.
Cox had a pair of scoring runs – the first a 1-yard run, the second from 46 yards away – and a 33-yard scoring strike to wideout Jamarius Tallie. Thomas added his second score with a minute to go before the half with a 1-yard plunge, giving West Point a 33-0 halftime lead.
In the first two quarters, West Point outgained Ridgeland 262 to minus 9. The Wave forced two turnovers, including an interception by safety DeQuinten Spraggins, and senior Tommy Keys added a blocked punt.
“I told them at halftime that they played the best first half I’ve seen yet,” said Chambless. “I also told them that we could not afford to let up in the second half.”
Apparently, they listened.
West Point continued to assert itself after the break, as Thomas scored touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to put the game away. The bruising senior finished his career at home with a 104-yard performance, and scored from 23 and 2 yards out in the second half.
“We are coming together at the right time,” said Thomas afterward. “We know we’re close to getting to Jackson, and we wanted to make a statement tonight.”
Cox added 112 yards on the ground and completed 9 of his 12 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Now 13-1 on the season, West Point will return to Jackson for the fourth time since 2002 and the ninth time in school history.
This time, the Wave will face a rejuvenated Brookhaven team, who has reached the state finals despite entering the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Region 3-5A.
“Regardless of who we play, we know it will be a good team,” said Chambless. “This is for a state championship, and our guys know that we have to be ready. We can enjoy this win tonight, but they know our ultimate goal is not the North state championship. Our goal is to win it all, and to do that, we have to come back Monday and go to work.”
It’s West Point’s third title game appearance since 2005, and the Wave is 2-0 in that stretch. In 2005, West Point edged out Wayne County by a score of 17-15 and in 2009, the Wave topped the War Eagles by a score of 35-14.
Brookhaven reached this year’s title game with a surprising playoff run, knocking off two no. 1 seeds on the way to Jackson.
The Panthers knocked off No. 1 seed Long Beach in Round 1, squeaked past Wayne County in overtime in Round 2, and eliminated top-ranked West Point in a 27-26 thriller Friday night.
West Point and Brookhaven will clash for the state championship Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Jackson.