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Back to back: Picayune rallies past West Point 31-21 to clinch 2022 Class 5A State Championship

Oregon commit Dante Dowdell rushed four three touchdowns as the Maroon Tide defended their 5A title

HATTIESBURG — It appeared West Point was poised to avenge their loss to Picayune in last year’s MHSAA 5A State Championship game. But as the Green Wave discovered, defending champs don’t go down easy.

The Maroon Tide flexed their muscles with an impressive running game and erased an early 14-3 deficit to beat West Point 31-21 in front of a packed house at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of Southern Mississippi.

The win gave Picayune (15-0) back-to-back titles and its fifth championship in school history. It was their 26th win in a row.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” Stogner said. “It’s so hard to get here, and even harder to win it. I think this (championship) is a testament to how hard they’ve worked. We challenged them and they responded, over and over again.”

They certainly responded Friday night, and they needed to after a stressful first half.

Picayune took an 3-0 lead following the game’s opening drive on a 27-yard field goal from Morgan Craft, but West Point scored back-to-back touchdowns on scoring passes of 41 and 86 yards from Que Tillman-Evans to Ahmari Cox to put West Point ahead 14-3.

The first half would have been a near wash for Picayune if not for a late 10-play, 54-yard drive capped by a one-yard run from Dante Dowdell that trimmed the West Point lead to 14-10 at the half.

“A lot of teams would have freaked out after falling behind by two scores like that,” Stogner said. “But our guys didn’t get rattled. They just stuck to the plan and stayed the course. It’s what they’ve done all year.”

After the break, Dowdell and the explosive Picayune offense took over. The four-star Oregon commit opened the second-half scoring with a 22-yard touchdown run to put Picayune ahead 17-14.

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Two possessions later, Tide quarterback Brady Robertson connected with Darrell Smith for an 80-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 24-14.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that have heart,” Dowdell said. “When we get a head of steam and start going downhill, we’re hard to stop.”

West Point finally responded with a five-play, 46-yard touchdown drive. Kahnen Daniels capped it with a eight-yard scoring run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

At that point, it looked like West Point was going to make a game of it, but Dowdell put the game on ice with a 37-yard touchdown run with 6:53 left.

West Point never could get anything going on its last two possessions, and the game ended with Picayune in the victory formation on the one-yard line.

The Green Wave rushed for just 116 yards on 26 carries. Cox caught three passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Coleman Carter led the defense with 10 tackles.

“We played our tails off for four quarters,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said. “We just didn’t get any of the breaks we needed. We never could force a turnover or get them in the backfield in a big situation. Not going to take anything away from our guys — we played hard.”

So did Picayune, especially that big offensive line and their dynamic backfield.

Chris Davis rushed 16 times for 104 yards, and for the second year in a row, Dowdell was as-advertised — he finished with 190 yards on 28 carries with three touchdowns to earn MVP honors.

“He’s a great player,” Stogner said. “And sometimes you just gotta let a great player play. We’ve had him for four years, and he’s just gotten better and better every year. We lean on him heavily, and we did again tonight. Like always, he delivered.”

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