• 73°

Indians get revenge; bag championship

JACKSON – There was no shortage of heroics provided by Hazlehurst’s defense Saturday in the Class 3A State Championship Game. Hazlehurst defensive back Dycelious Reese authored the most historic theft in Hazlehurst football history when he stripped the football from Charleston offensive lineman Jamal Brock and returned it four yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

     Hazlehurst quarterback Kenny Coleman threw a dart to running back Demetrius Cain on the 2-point conversion play and the Indians led 21-14 with 4:21 left in the game being played in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

     In a game filled with big-plays by both teams, Charleston’s Deshadrick Truly returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown. Charleston coach Tony Vance elected to go for the win and speedster Kamaron Myers circled left end on the 2-point conversion run. However, his foot touched the sideline as Myers stretched his arm holding the football across the goal line.

     Myers was ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Hazlehurst’s fans began celebrating a perfect 16-0 season and long-awaited revenge after losing 34-8 to Charleston in last year’s title game.

     Reese recalled the impressive strip. On third down at the Charleston 10-yard line, Cain pounded up the middle but the ball was knocked loose from his grasp. Brock alertly caught the ball and started to make a fumble return.

     “I saw the ball flying in the air,” said Reese. “I knew No. 78 didn’t know how to carry the ball. I took it away from him and hugged the ball as  hard as I could.”

     Reese also intercepted a pass in the second quarter, returning it 26 yards.

     The Tigers tried an onside kickoff but the ball sailed out of bounds at the Charleston 47-yard line. Coleman completed a crucial, 17-yard, third-down pass to Dedric Reese and the Indians ran out the clock.

     Coach Randal Montgomery and his team celebrated as the visiting stands erupted with screaming fans dressed in maroon and white. His team had redeemed itself after a year-long wait.

     “I’m so happy for them,” said Montgomery, tears filling his eyes. “Our kids could have laid down and quit when we got behind but they never got discouraged. You have to put those mistakes behind you and keep playing hard.”

     Hazlehurst played an incredible game on defense. Charleston’s big plays came up empty on 3 occasions inside Hazlehurst’s 8-yard line.

     Holding an 8-7 lead late in the first half, the Tigers had gained a first-and-goal at Hazlehurst’s 5-yard line on a leaping 32-yard pass play from Myers to Tilmus Bradford. On fourth down, running back Ge’vonte Jones was tackled at the 1-yard line by Hazlehurst’s Cain and Dedric Reese.

     Asked about Hazlehurst’s defensive effort against the explosive Tigers, tackle Javarius Tanner said, “We played the best defense we’ve ever played. We call our defensive line the Wrecking Crew. We had our minds up we wouldn’t let (Charleston) get in the end zone.”

     Offensively, the Indians got 17 rushes for 138 yards from Cain, plus 2 catches for 26 more yards. The rugged senior also had 12 tackles at linebacker.

      “It was a battle,” said Cain, sweat streaking his face in the warm afternoon sunlight. “We had to come out and fight on every play. It feels good to be a state champion. We finally got one.”

     The Tigers (14-2) got off to a roaring start. They scored on their first possession, going 79 yards in 5 plays. A short pass in the flat from quarterback Jalen Haywood to Myers became a 62-yards scoring play down the sideline. Jones ran the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead with 9:39 left in the first quarter.

     Hazlehurst responded with a touchdown march, going 76 yards in 6 plays. Coleman completed 2 passes to Cain to reach midfield. From there, Cain broke off tackle on the next play and went 50 yards to paydirt. Dycelious Reese kicked the extra point and it was 8-7.

     Late in the third quarter, Charleston was forced to punt. The center’s snap sailed over Bradford’s head and he was tackled at  Charleston’s 24 for an 18-yard loss. Five plays later, Coleman followed a wedge of blockers around right end for the go-ahead TD. The PAT kick was blocked and Hazlehurst led 13-8 with 11:51 left in the game.

     Charleston answered with a 77-yard scoring drive. A fake punt at the Tigers’ 43 resulted in a reverse run by Truly gaining 54 yards to the Hazlehurst 3-yard line. Two plays later Calwaun Street tried the middle of the line and strutted across the goal line.

     Myers was short on the 2-point conversion run and Charleston led 14-13 with 7:27 left to play.

     “Our defense would bend but we didn’t break,” said Coach Montgomery. “Our kids gave a great effort.”

     Hazlehurst’s defensive coordinator is Damian Gary.

     On defense, Aaron Larry followed Cain with 10 tackles. Jonkil Skipper and Tanner each had 9 tackles.