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Bulldogs ‘never gave up’ in loss to West Jones

By Rob Winpigler

The Laurel Chronicle

LAUREL — Despite a tough loss Friday night at Mustang Stadium, Natchez coach Lance Reed came away feeling good about his program.

“We are heading in the right direction,” Reed said following the 30-8 defeat at the hands of West Jones. “We made some good plays and continued to battle. We played a tough team, and we knew that coming in. But our kids never gave up, and I am very pleased about that. Now, we will go back to work next week and get ready for South Jones.”

The Bulldogs looked prepared for West’s aggressive defense on the opening series and marched from their own 23 to the West 36. But on 4-and-10, Natchez attempted a fake punt, but Devontae Green’s pass to Dalvison Jacson fell incomplete killing the drive.

Natchez’s defense made short work of the Mustangs and forced a 3-and-out, getting the ball back for the offense at the NHS 34. This time, the Bulldogs used a little more than 3 minutes to move the ball to midfield, but a 6-yard loss move the ball back to the NHS 44. On the next play, the ball was stripped from a scrambling Anthony Robinson and West Jones recovered at the NHS 38.

Two plays later, WJ junior quarterback Neill McLaurin picked up a bad snap and rambled 45-yards to paydirt. The PAT by Kyle Estess was true, and with 5:01 left in the first quarter, West took a lead it would never relinquish at 7-0.

On the following series, Natchez’s drive was stopped short of the first down when a pair of penalties kept the net gain at seven yards on just three plays. But the ensuing punt by Nehemiah Ford traveled just five yards giving West the ball at the NHS 27. D.J. Sanders pounded the ball 14 yards on three carries, but it was McLaurin who broke a pair of tackles and battled the final 13 yards to the end zone. Again, Estess’s PAT was true and West built a 14-0 lead with 50 seconds still left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs threatened again following the ensuing kickoff. NHS marched from its own 32 to the West 11. But Robinson’s pass to Turner Johnson was deflected in the end zone to stop the threat and turn the ball over on downs.

West’s offense could muster little on its next drive and returned the ball to Natchez via a punt. Soloman Page returned the ball the WJ 45, but the Bulldogs could only gain one first down and were forced to punt again.

This time, a high snap and recovered ball fumble gave the Mustangs the ball at the NHS 20. Three plays and a penalty later, McLaurin connected with a wide-open Austin Herrington for a 25-yard touchdown. Estess again centered the PAT for a 21-0 with 4:06 left before intermission.

Natchez made one final run at the end zone following the kickoff, marching from its on 25 to the West 23, but a fourth-down pass from Robinson to Malik Byrd was knocked down by Anthony Kirk for the halftime score.

“They are a fast paced team and we were getting a little tired, but I was proud of the way our guys battled,” said West coach Scott Pierson. “We’ve got to do a better job of conditioning.”

The Mustangs added a 31-yard Estess field goal on West’s opening drive of the second half. The Mustangs moved from their own 44 to the NHS 14 before the drive stalled giving WJ a 24-0 lead with 7:14 left in the third quarter.

West added its final score of the game midway in the final quarter. Kirk nabbed his second interception of the game, this time at the Natchez 24. Six runs by Dakota Dupree to the WJ 3 set up the final touchdown on a quarterback draw by back-up QB Drew Fiala. Estess first PAT was good, but the Mustangs were flagged for holding. The second attempt sailed just wide right for the final West Jones score.

But the Bulldogs were not to be denied their opportunity to find paydirt. On the ensuing drive, Robinson connected with Earon Brown for a 45-yard catch-and-run. With 3:28 left in the game, Robinson caught the Mustangs off guard and hit Lee Jackson for the two-point conversion and the final score.

“We are going to take this and build from here,” Reed said as his team fell to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in Region 3-5A play. The Bulldogs return home to face South Jones, who fell to Pearl River Central, Friday. “We don’t know a lot about South Jones either. But we know we’ve got to be ready to play another good football team.”

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