Green Wave hold on, beat rival Jackets

West Point’s Jimothy Mays (3) looks for running room against the Starkville defense on Friday night. (Photo by Jason Cleveland, for Daily Times Leader)
Daily Times Leader

Not many people were giving West Point a chance coming into Friday night’s showdown with Starkville.

The Green Wave had a rough loss to Louisville last week to bring into question whether or not they were ready to compete for another state championship in Class 5A. Everyone who already had this one chalked up for the black and gold hasn’t watched the rivalry between these two teams in the past.

After falling behind early in the game by two scores, West Point turned SHS  over three times in the first half and scored 41-straight points and it held on  after a late surge by the Jackets. Two huddles around midfield had two different mindsets postgame as the Green Wave protected their turf and shocked the Jackets 41-35.

“It’s been a long week,” West Point head coach Chris Chambless said. “Our guys put in a lot of work this week. We preach to them every day that there might be 10 ways to do things right, but we do it one way – the Green Wave way.”

It was a game that personified the wild Starkville-West Point rivalry. It wasn’t a beauty contest for either, but they wouldn’t admit defeat until the final seconds ran off the clock. For Starkville, turnovers were the issue and it changed the game.

The Jackets turned it over four times in the game and West Point scored on all of them. Starkville finished the game with 339 total yards but 336 of those came via the pass. The rushing attack wasn’t inspiring for the Jackets as they had just 14 carries and for only 3 yards. Meanwhile, the Wave thrived on the ground.

West Point was in vintage shape on Friday night as Chambless rode his big offensive line and workhorse running back Brandon Harris to victory. The senior runner amassed 156 yards on 27 carries and four touchdowns and Dantariyus Cannon added 20 carries for 136 yards as West Point ran the ball 64 times for 337 yards.  

Once the Wave started to get things going, the Jackets couldn’t stop them and SHS also couldn’t get out of its own way. Three turnovers contributed to a disaster second quarter for the Jackets as they saw a 14-0 lead turn into a 28-14 deficit by the end of the half.

Luke Altmyer had blistered the West Point defense on two of the first three drives starting 5-of-6 for 115 yards and two scores, but as the Jackets got the football back hoping to march in again as the first quarter was coming to an end, Altmyer fumbled the snap and the momentum began to shift.

Dantariyus Cannon threw a 26-yard touchdown on a halfback pass and the surge was on for the Wave. They got a fumble recovery on the next drive to end the first quarter and that started a string of 41-straight for the Green Wave.

”It was just self-inflicted wounds,” SHS head coach Chris Jones said. “We felt like we put ourselves in that position. They’re a good football team and you can’t make those mistakes. We didn’t play well enough, I didn’t coach well enough. It’s no excuses.”

Leading 41-14 late in the third quarter after Altmyer’s interception and ensuing touchdown by the Wave, SHS began to get back in it. Jones went with a change at quarterback as he brought in NyJal Johnson. With fourth and 20, Johnson hit Amariyon Howard for a 33-yard score to get them to 41-21.

Jones said postgame that he wanted to change things up to try to get momentum back and that’s why he benched Altmyer in the third quarter. The junior quarterback Altmyer never returned to the game.

“I thought NyJal did good at the end of the day,” Jones said. “No matter who you are, it’s next man up. We needed some momentum and he got us back into things. He’s always a guy that I’ve thought we could win with. He just happens to be in the same class as Luke.”

A turnover on downs gave the ball right back to the Jackets deep in West Point territory and Johnson took a shot on the first play hitting Rufus Harvey for a spectacular catch and a 29-yard score to cut the lead to 41-28 as the third quarter ended.

The Jackets had another last gasp of effort as Johnson found Josh Aka for a 10-yard score on fourth and goal and cut the game to 41-35, but the clock ran out on them on the defensive possession as the Green Wave converted two gutsy first down runs to win it.

There was a bright spot for the Jackets who showed some major fight to come back in the game. Johnson led the way in the second half going 7-of-13 for 154 yards and three touchdowns in the final four possessions. Altmyer was 14-of-22 for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

The Jackets had several players step up again this week in the receiving department. Harvey had six catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns, Aka had five catches for 93 yards and a score, Howard finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and four carries for 24 yards and Orien Thompson had three catches for 55 yards and a score.

Next week, the Green Wave (2-1) is back home hosting Tupelo at McCallister Field. Starkville (1-2) is trying to get things settled with its team and host a hot Louisville team at Yellow Jacket Stadium.