Wayne County advances to state title game
OOPS! – Oak Grove's Tyler Blankenship gets upended by Wayne County's Tristan Rogers while Alex Poole (3) closes in on the play. The Warriors won the battle as Blankenship held on to a Kyle Sellers pass, but the War Eagles won the war, 28-21, claiming the South State Championship. PHOTO BY DON HILL / EMG
By Stan Caldwell / EMG sports writer
Nov. 30, 2002
HATTIESBURG All week long, coaches for both Oak Grove and Wayne County talked about the importance of big plays as they approached Friday night's Class 5A South State Championship game.
In the end, it was indeed big plays that made the difference as the third-ranked War Eagles overcame the Warriors 28-21 before an overflow crowd of over 6,000 at Warrior Field.
Wayne County (13-1) will make its first-ever trip to the state finals at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, where the War Eagles will face undefeated and top-ranked South Panola. Oak Grove finishes 12-2, with both losses coming at the hands of Wayne County.
In a game filled with big plays, it was Wayne County that made most of them. Quarterback Akeem Lofton directed a powerful attack that piled up 468 yards, including 331 yards on the ground. Lofton ran 18 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, and completed 5-of-9 passes for 137 yards and two scores.
It was Lofton who made the big play that got the War Eagles going midway through the first quarter. Taking over at the Wayne County 33-yard-line after two possessions by each team, Lofton needed just one play to go the distance.
Flushed out of the pocket to the left side, Lofton found senior wide receiver Scoot Saul streaking open across the middle, and Sauls took the pass all the way for a 67-yard touchdown play.
Wayne County made it 14-0 on its next possession, driving 75 yards on seven plays, with Lofton scoring from a yard out on the first play of the second quarter.
Oak Grove finally got its offense untracked late in the second quarter behind junior quarterback Kyle Sellers, who completed four of five passes on a 77-yard scoring drive. Cody Hull ran in for the score on an 11-yard burst to cut the lead in half, and it remained 14-7 at halftime.
The Warriors drove as far as the War Eagle 33 with the opening drive of the second half, but Chris St. John's 50-yard field-goal attempt hit the crossbar.
The War Eagles then wasted little time covering 80 yards, Michael McLaughlin ran for 27 yards, then one play later, J.J. Taylor took a pitch around right end, got to the sideline and outraced the pursuit for a 49-yard touchdown run.
Oak Grove answered right back with a nine-play, 56-yard drive. Passes from Sellers to Sam Thomas of 22 yards and 17 yards to Jacob Garber got the Warriors in scoring position, and Gary Pack finally punched it across from the 1-yard-line on fourth down.
Wayne County responded in turn, taking the ensuing possession 80 yards in nine plays. The big play was the touchdown, a 37-yard touchdown pass from Lofton to Saul on the first play of the fourth quarter that made the score 28-21.
The Warriors kept coming back, however, moving 66 yards on six plays, getting the score on a 32-yard pass from Sellers to Thomas.
It looked like Oak Grove would tie the game after the Warriors finally got the defensive break they'd been looking for, when senior defensive tackle Taylor Hickman recovered a fumble at the Wayne County 20.
A 9-yard pass to Thomas and an 8-yard run by Hull got Oak Grove to the 3-yard-line, but two sacks and an intentional grounding penalty moved the ball all the way back to the War Eagle 31, and St. John was well short on a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Instead, it was the War Eagles who seized the momentum with their defense. Wayne County sacked Sellers five times for 56 yard in losses, and four of them came in the fourth quarter.
The biggest play, though, was Kevin Johnson's interception with 2:45 to play that stopped the Warriors near midfield. Wayne County burned off all but 36 seconds off the clock, then forced three straight incompletions and a final sack to preserve the victory for the War Eagles.