War Eagles drop heartbreaker to Laurel, 34-30
By Paul Keane
LAUREL — It was a valiant effort to cap off a great season, but a rally fell just shy of the mark as Laurel hung on to defeat Wayne County High School's football team, 34-30, in the 5A South State Championship Game here Friday night.
The loss ends the season for the War Eagles, who finished at 11-3 overall. Ironically, two of the losses came against the Golden Tornadoes at Watkins Stadium.
"It was a great ballgame between two great teams," said Head Coach Todd Mangum. "I'm proud of the way our kids fought and never gave up, especially when we got down in the first half. Laurel just made a few more plays than we did.
"But that doesn't take away from all the things this team accomplished this year. Heading into tonight, there were only four teams left in 5A, and we were one of them. If I was offered to take the ride again with this group of kids, I would hop right on and ride all the way again. I hate this for our seniors, but I am proud of the way these kids worked and played all season long."
The War Eagles appeared ready to take charge of things in the early going as Kendrick Fuqua blocked a punt on the opening series of the night. That allowed the offense to take over at the Laurel 32, and six plays later, Freddy Jordan, Jr., bulled his way in from 2 ears out to make it 6-0 with 7:43 left in the opening quarter of play.
Laurel responded immediately, marching 4 yards in 10 plays before Dante Robinson scored on a 1-yard run. The extra point gave LHS a 7-6 lead with 3:25 left in the opening stanza.
From there, the Golden Tornadoes began to control things with a better-than-average running game and some big plays for the rest of the half.
Laurel returned the favor in the special teams department, blocking a punt midway through the second quarter that allowed LHS to set up at the War Eagles' 18-yard line. One first down, Dontonio Drummond hauled in an 18-yard pass from Keon Howard for a score. Benito Jones blocked the extra point, though, giving Laurel a 13-6 lead with 6:26 left before the intermission.
After a three-and-out by the War Eagles, Laurel took over at its own 46-yard line. A sack for a loss of 11 yards appeared to end the scoring threat, as the Golden Tornadoes were facing a 3-and-20 from the WCHS 29-yard line. Instead, Howard hit Omar Bayless with a touchdown pass, and the extra point opened up a 20-6 lead with 1:40 remaining.
The War Eagles would respond this time, marching 46 yard down to the LHS 10-yard line as time was running out. Brandon McCary lined up and booted a 29-yard field goal to trim the lead down to 20-9 at halftime.
WCHS came out strong in the third quarter, taking the second half kickoff and marching 65 yards in 12 plays, with Jordan, Jr., capping things off with a 7-yard run. The McCary extra point made it a one-possession contest at 20-16 with 6:46 left in the quarter.
A personal foul call on the fair catch during the ensuing kickoff allowed Laurel to start at midfield. Five plays later, Howard called his own number, plowing his way in from a yard out to make it 27-16 with 5:18 left in the period.
A blocking below the waist penalty against the Golden Tornadoes on the extra point try forced the home team to kickoff from its own 25-yard line. Reggie Stewart returned the kick to the LHS 40-yard line, and it took only seven plays to reach the 5-yard line. On fourth down, the War Eagles lined up for an apparent field goal attempt, but Stewart pulled the ball, rolled to his left and hit a wide open Tramond Lofton for the scoring pass. McCary then booted the extra point to trim the deficit back down to four points at 27-23 with 3:06 remaining.
Inspired by the trickery, the defense held Laurel to three plays and a punt, allowing the offense to set up shop at its own 48-yard line. Six plays later, all of the running variety, D.J. Cameron scored on a 3-yard run. The McCary kick gave WCHS a 30-27 lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
The two teams traded punts to start the fourth quarter before Laurel marched 74 yards in three plays, with Howard hitting Omar Bayless with a 31-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-30 with 7:00 left in the contest.
The War Eagles would respond again, marching deep into LHS territory before facing a fourth-and-6 from the 28-yard line. A delay of game penalty moved the ball back 5 yards, and a fourth-down pass fell incomplete, allowing the home team to run out the clock and punch its ticket to Starkville for a state championship showdown against Oxford.
LAUREL 34, WCHS 30
SCORE BY QUARTERS
WCHS 6 3 21 0 — 30
LHS 7 13 7 7 — 34
WCHS — 7:43, Freddy Jordan, Jr., 2-yard run. Kick failed.
LHS — 3:25, Dante Robinson 1-yard run. Kick good.
LHS — 6:26, Dontonio Drummond 18-yard pass from Keon Howard. Kick good.
LHS — 1:40, Omar Bayless 29-yard pass from Howard. Kick good.
WCHS — 0:15, Brandon McCary 29-yard field goal.
WCHS — 6:46, Jordan, Jr., 7-yard run. McCary kick.
LHS — 5:18, Howard 1-yard run. Kick good.
WCHS — 3:06, Tramond Lofton 5-yard pass from Reggie Stewart. McCary kick.
WCHS — 0:20, D.J. Cameron 3-yard run. McCary kick.
LHS — 7:00, Bayless 31-yard pass from Howard. Kick good.
FIRST DOWNS: WCHS 22, LHS 18
RUSHES-YARDS: WCHS 49-207, LHS 28-97
PASSES: WCHS 14-21-0, LHS 13-21-0
PASSING YARDS: WCHS 104, LHS 236
FUMBLES-LOST: WCHS 0-0, LHS 0-0
PENALTIES-YARDS: WCHS 8-65, LHS 10-77
PUNTS-AVERAGE: WCHS 3-23.0, LHS 3-30.7
RETURN YARDS: WCHS 73, LHS 18
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: WCHS 7-of-16, LHS 5-of-10
FOURTH DOWN CONVERSIONS: WCHS 2-of-3, LHS 0-of-0
TIME OF POSSESSION: WCHS 27:07, LHS 20:53
Freddy Jordan, Jr., 21-104, D.J. Cameron 15-80, Chris Cooley 8-24, David Hodo 5-(-1).
David Hodo 13-20-0 99 yards, Reggie Stewart 1-1-0 5 yards.
Reggie Stewart 6-64, Dashun Philon 4-17, Direkus Harris 2-11, Freddy Jordan, Jr., 1-6, Tramond Lofton 1-5.
TyRee Evans 11, Tramond Lofton 8, Tyler Hopkins 6, Denzel Bonner 5, Jacquan White 4, Roy Arrington 4, Quinten Hogan 3, DeCarlos Walker 3, Cadarius Pannell 3, Quindarius Bivens 2, DeAndre Gandy 2, Rameik Wallace 1, Javonta McCann 1, Deon Smith 1, Jamarius Hundley 1, Jamal Powe 1.
TyRee Evans 4.
Tyler Hopkins 4, Jacquan White 4, TyRee Evans 2, Quindarius Bivens 2, Benito Jones 1.
Deon Smith 2, Cadarius Pannell 2, TyRee Evans 1.