West Point ground game too much for Ridgeland in 29-22 5A North slugfest

RIDGELAND — The 5A North Championship came down to big-boy football Friday night at Titan Field.

And for the fifth year in a row, the boys from West Point proved to be bigger.

The Green Wave held the ball for seven minutes on its final drive, scored the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left and hung on for a thrilling 29-22 win over Ridgeland, punching a ticket to the MHSAA 5A Championship for the fifth year in a row.

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They’ll face South State Champion West Jones (11-3), which defeated Pascagoula 18-16 on the coast, next Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

“I said all year we’ll go where our seniors lead us,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said. “Well, we’re headed back to the championship.”

Unlike a few of those last four years, this semifinal win was very much in doubt late in the game.

Ridgeland led 22-14 headed into the final quarter, but West Point pulled even with 9:45 to go when Jakobe Pate capped an 8-play, 71-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run to trim the lead to 22-20. Pate faked the handoff and hit a wide open Corbin Kelly for the two-point conversion pass to tie the game at 22-22.

Ridgeland drove the ball 25 yards to midfield on the ensuing possession, but got hit with a penalty for having an illegal man downfield that put them behind the chains at 3rd-and-11 at their own 49-yard line. Quarterback Zy McDonald, who had played so well all night, couldn’t find an open receiver on third down, and the Titans punted it away with 7:45 left on the clock.

That’s when the West Point offensive line shone brightest.

The Green Wave moved the ball 80 yards in 14 plays — eating seven minutes off the clock in the process — and scored on tailback Cameron Young’s third touchdown of the night from three yards out to take the 29-22 lead with 45 seconds left on the clock.

McDonald moved the Ridgeland offense from its own 31-yard line to the Green Wave 36, but his final pass of the evening fell incomplete as time expired to give West Point the win.

“We wanted to be methodical about it,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said of the game-winning drive. “We just operated at our normal speed and it worked.”

Ridgeland (10-3) had its way on offense for much of the night, but couldn’t come up with enough big plays in the second half.

The Titans scored on their first two possessions to start the game. The first came on a four-yard keeper by McDonald to go ahead 8-0 just 74 seconds into the game.

West Point responded with a nine-play, 64-yard touchdown drive without throwing a pass. Young capped that one with a six-yard run to trim the Ridgeland lead to 8-7.

Ridgeland came right back with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. McDonald was a perfect 3-for-3 on the drive, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Braxton Boone on the wheel route. The two-point play, a shovel pass, didn’t get the two yards it needed and Ridgeland led 14-7 with 9:45 left in the first quarter.

West Point tied the game in the second quarter with a nine-play, 55-yard drive that Young cashed in with a 1-yard dive that tied the game at 14-14 going into halftime.

Ridgeland’s splendid quarterback McDonald was 11-of-12 for 148 yards, and it looked for a moment like it was going to be more of the same in the second half.

McDonald was 8-of-11 on Ridgeland’s first possession of the second half, and hit tailback Donovan Ball on a swing pass for a 15-yard touchdown to put the Titans ahead 22–14.

But the Titans never scored again. Ridgeland turned the ball over on downs on their only other third-quarter possession and had to punt on the first of their two fourth-quarter tries.

“We came out with more intensity than we did on the first couple of drives,” West Point senior defensive end Jaquarius Thomas said. “We just stuck with it, and it worked in our favor. We needed to play (man-to-man) and play ball and keep them from making big plays.”

It didn’t hurt that the West Point defense spent most of the second half on the sideline, watching as the offensive line went to work on Ridgeland’s defensive front.

The Green Wave finished the night with 323 rushing yards, and they ended up needing every single one of them.

“The offensive line was tremendous,” Young said. “We spend time every practice trying to punch it in from the 10-yard line, and it showed up tonight.”

In the end, it was that push West Point produced up front that proved too much to overcome. The Green Wave converted three key third downs and averaged 5.7 yards a carry on the final drive.

As the team celebrated on the Ridgeland field, Thomas stood off to the side, tears in his eyes.

“All the odds have been against us all season,” he said. “We lost three games and there was a lot of doubt. We’re not supposed to be here — or so everyone was saying — but we worked for this from summer workouts. We beat Covid-19 and we beat our opponents. It feels good, because with this season, you never knew if you were going to get another game, and we’re going back to the ‘ship.”

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