MAIS Class A State Championship: Rams see dream end
JACKSON — Emotionally dejected and mentally drained, Wilkinson County Christian Academy senior defensive captain Quincy Thompson could only be blunt about how it felt.
“This is the worst feeling in my whole entire life,” the Rams linebacker and running back said.
He likely wasn’t exaggerating. With his team leading 7-0 for three quarters, Thompson watched as Tri-County Academy fought back to force a 7-7 tie at the end of regulation in the MAIS Class A state title game at Millsaps College. Despite a field goal to put the Rams ahead in their first overtime possession, they were unable to keep the Rebels out of the end zone, as Tri-County walked away with the ultimate prize.
“We played a great season,” Thompson said. “We had a good season this year. Everything worked out. We got what we wanted — to be here. We just came up short.”
The go-ahead play for Tri-County came from the Rebels’ star player, running back Ryan Cothern, who entered the game with more than 2,000 yards rushing. MAIS rules for overtime give each team four downs to punch it in from the 10-yard line, and Cothern took a third-down carry from the 4 in for the touchdown.
On the previous possession, the Rams were unable to find the end zone, forcing Taylor Prevost to kick a 21-yard field goal to give WCCA a 10-7 lead and hope the defense could make a stop.
“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed at the very end, but not with the effort my kids gave,” WCCA head coach David Wright said. “The overall effort was there. It was there every night we played. We might have made mistakes, but we overcame those just by wanting to do better and wanting to work harder on the next play.”
The momentum turned in the Rebels’ favor with more than eight minutes to go in regulation. WCCA opted to go for it on fourth- and two from its own 49-yard line. Despite a strong push, running back Kaleb Sterling missed the first down by mere inches.
Tri-County Academy responded with a four-play, 51-yard drive capped off by a 24-yard run by Cothern that tied the game 7-7 with 7:33 left to play.
“It was a gut feeling you go with,” Wright said on the decision to go for it on fourth down. “You’re proud of how hard your kids work, and Kaleb Sterling is a mighty fine running back, and he found the hole. We’re mere inches away from a first down.”
WCCA began to drive down the field on its final possession of regulation, but they only managed to get to the 24-yard line before time was about to expire. Prevost attempted a 29-yard field goal with two seconds left, but it was short, sending the game into overtime.
After stopping the Rebels on their opening possession, the Rams marched down the field and got off to an early 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Prevost with 5:43 left in the first. But the Rams were unable to find the end zone after that, tallying only 97 yards rushing while throwing for 257 yards.
Defensively, the Rams contained Cothern about as well as they could have, keeping him to 89 yards on the ground. Tri-County only gained 23 yards through the air and managed 152 yards rushing. The Rebels were 0-of-4 on fourth downs, including two fake punt attempts.
“We knew the Rebel offense went through No. 27 (Cothern), and he’s an outstanding player, but we gang-tackled and worked on open-field tackling (this week),” Wright said.
“We keyed the fullback, and we knew he would take us to the ball. We had (Cothern) on lock, but he found some yards here and there. We took away the passing game and made them one-dimension. We just came up a little short today.”
John Norwood led WCCA defensively with 11 tackles, while Jaylen Washington, L.J. Jackson and Sterling all tallied six tackles. Thompson was the Rams’ leading rusher, with 56 yards on 12 carries.
Prevost had an excellent day at quarterback, going 14 for 19 for 257 yards. Despite the good numbers, Prevost couldn’t help but be disappointed in the final score.
“I’m devastated, disappointed,” Prevost said.
“Well, not much disappointment, just devastated,” he corrected himself. “We had a really good season. We worked really, really hard. We got where we wanted to go, we were just three points off.”
WCCA finished the season 12-2.