COLLINSVILLE — Ja’karius Grant ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown to cap off a nine-play, 64-yard drive to give West Lauderdale a 27-0 advantage on its first possession of the second half.
After Clarksdale fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and handed the ball back to the Knights, quarterback Eli Bryan launched a 35-yard pass to Braden Luke, who was stopped 1 yard shy of the end zone. Bryan punched it in from there on a QB sneak to put the finishing touches on a 33-8 win over the Wildcats in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on a chilly Friday evening.
The victory for West Lauderdale (8-4) sets up a clash with undefeated Itawamba Agricultural (12-0) next week.
“It wasn’t anything we were planning on, we were in the right place at the right time, and good things happened to us because of it,” Knights head coach Brock Clay said of the fumble recovery. “I’m blessed with some really special kids. We took it just as it is, didn’t worry about the weather. I know it was cold out there, it didn’t seem to affect us, that’s just the mindset our kids have.”
Bryan’s sneak, which came in the third quarter, was his third touchdown of the game on the ground in a 54-yard rushing performance. His pass to Luke was his only attempt of the second half, finishing 3-for-7 for 70 yards. Grant had West’s other two touchdowns, both rushing, as part of a 19-carry, 108-yard night.
West held Clarksdale scoreless for more than three and a half quarters, conceding the Wildcats’ only score off a 6-yard rushing touchdown by DiKyrus Bays after its second string had entered the contest. Prior to its lone scoring drive, an 11-play, 80-yard effort, Clarksdale managed only 64 yards of offense on six drives and moved the chains just twice.
After forcing a three-and-out on defense to start the game, the Knights strung together an 11-play, 64-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown run by Bryan on a designed QB keeper to put West ahead early. After Bryan was sacked on back-to-back plays on their next drive, the Knights punted but got the ball back at the opposing 14-yard line after a tipped Wildcats punt. On first down, Bryan took off with the ball and was stopped three yards shy of the goal line but stayed on his feet and powered through defenders to break the plane for the touchdown in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
“The past few weeks we’ve been running the ball, and it’s been working a lot,” Bryan said. “It’s been cold and wet, and I think the best thing to do is to just run the ball.”
Grant picked up his first touchdown on a 1-yard score to put his squad up by 20. West went back on offense with less than a minute and a half to play before the break and moved the ball from the Clarksdale 40 to the 5. The Knights initially lined up for a field goal attempt with two seconds left, but after the Wildcats called a timeout, Clay opted to try for the end zone and ran a halfback pass that had Jackson Parker looking for a target. His pass fell short, however, as time expired.
Parker threw a second pass in the fourth quarter, an incompletion, and ran for 56 yards on five carries. He also caught an 11-yard pass from Bryan in the first quarter.
West finished with 276 yards of offense and had 15 first downs. It’s also the sixth time this season the Knights’ defense has allowed eight or fewer points.
“Any win we’re proud to get,” Clay said. “It’s a testament to these kids; the hard work they’ve done, the way they’ve played their tails off and fought through adversity, being young and having injuries all year, and I’m just tickled to death with the effort they give.”