Everything Friday night in Soso pointed back to a community hurting from the loss of West Jones senior Cade Thompson. From the sticker decals on every West Jones and Laurel helmet to the post-game speech Mustangs head coach Scott Pierson gave his team on the 20-yard line near the South end zone.
With emotions from every direction, West Jones battled adversity and picked up a 24-21 win over Region 3-5A and county rival Laurel in its last regular-season home game.
"I couldn't be more proud of a team than what you did this week," Pierson said to his team after the win. "Heavy hearts, and you still came here and put it all on the line. I know Cade's family appreciates it. Winning or losing is fine, guys, but what you showed is grit, heart, determination, and love for a family. And you did an awesome job."
West Jones fell behind early after forcing a Laurel fumble, then giving the ball back to the Tornadoes on a fumble the next play. Several plays later — on a fourth and goal from the four-yard line — Laurel senior running back Kiron Benjamin carried the ball into the end zone for a 7-0 Laurel lead.
West Jones answered with 21 unanswered points till the half. Two scores came after the Mustang's defense forced two more Laurel turnovers.
“The first half, Laurel beat us everywhere but on the scoreboard,” said Pierson. “The pick and fumbles, we were just able to execute.”
With good field position after a long kickoff return into Laurel territory, West Jones added a 30-yard field goal to go up 24-7 early in the third quarter, then stalled for the rest of the night offensively.
"We went into a shell offensively," said Pierson. "Again, it's a cross-town rivalry, and with everything going on, I'm just glad we finished."
Laurel pulled within three points late on two fourth-quarter touchdowns — one, a 21-yard pass to Tyrone Jones, and a one-yard run by Benjamin.
West Jones got the needed first downs on the game's final drive to settle in victory formation.
“It’s not so much about the win,” said Pierson. “I’m just proud of the way our guys competed. They honored their brother. I have a lot of respect for Laurel and the way they played. It was a great football game, which it always is. There was just so much more involved this week. I’m spent. I’m just spent.”
West Jones (7-1) travels to Hattiesburg next Friday night for another tough Region 3-5A matchup. Laurel (5-3) plays host to Wayne County at home. Kickoffs are slated for 7 p.m.
All three West Jones touchdowns were scored by different players (Josh McDonald, Marlon Lindsey, and Antwonie Gavin).
West Jones was without start linebacker Kendorean Russell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Florence.
“We have another big loss on the field without Russell,” said Pierson. “The guys on the field were doing the best they could, but Russell is probably the best player I’ve ever coached, and that’s why we struggled to get people on the perimeter and stop Laurel at times. I’m happy with my kids that went in there, but they only had one week to prepare because Russell has started every game for us since he’s been here. It’s a big hole to fill moving forward.”