By JOEL McNEECE
Freezing temperatures nor the West Bolivar defense could stop the Calhoun City passing attack as the Wildcats won the Class 2A North State Championship 30-19 in a dominating effort Friday night.
Calhoun City, 15-0, advanced to Friday's 3 p.m. state championship game in Jackson against Lumberton.
"This means so much," said Calhoun City's senior QB J.R. Jennings. "This is my last time to play high school football. We just want to win. We want to win."
Jennings completed 13-19 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown, showing no effect from the 28 degree weather. Senior WR Demarius Howard was on the receiving end of most of those passes, recording eight catches for 148 yards.
"You can't worry about the weather when you're playing for a north half championship," Howard said. "Our coaches did a good job of preparing us to come and play no matter how cold it is. We were playing a great team so we had to come out and play our best. Thank the Lord we did just that."
West Bolivar actually opened the scoring with a 51-yard touchdown pass from sophomore QB Kylan Johnson to senior WR Terrence Matthews to take a 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter.
Calhoun City drew closer on the ensuing possession. The Wildcats drove 63 yards for the score. The big play on the drive was a 25-yard strike from Jennings to Howard. Jennings hit senior WR Aaron Thompson with a 5-yard touchdown pass to cut the West Bolivar lead to 7-6.
The Wildcats took the lead in the second quarter with a 63-yard touchdown march. Sixteen and 20-yard passes from Jennings to Howard highlighted the drive. Jennings had the honor at the end with a 7-yard scoring run. He would also carry the ball across the goal line for the 2-point conversion to put the Wildcats up 14-7 with 5:46 left in the second quarter.
Howard brought the home crowd to its feet later in the quarter with an electrifying 65-yard punt return for a touchdown. Senior Marcquez Jones delivered a crushing block on the sideline to open the path for Howard.
"I wouldn't have broke it if not for the blocking," Howard said. "I thank all my boys for setting up the wall and opening it up for me and the coaches for putting me back there giving me the chance."
Raheem Roberson's extra point put the 'Cats up 21-7 going into the half.
An 84-yard drive for the Wildcats early in the third quarter ended at the West Bolivar 1-yard line. But the defense, led by Roberson and Rokedrick Mays, penetrated the Eagle offensive front on the next play and stuffed the fullback in the end zone for a safety.
'City took the free kick and marched for another score to virtually put the game away. Jennings and Howard again connected for the biggest play of the drive – a 29-yard pass play. Senior RB Avery Hill, who led the 'Cats with 56 yards rushing on the night, scored the touchdown on a 3-yard run. Roberson's extra point extended the lead to 30-7 with 9:14 to play.
West Bolivar would add two touchdowns later in the quarter – a 12-yard scoring pass from Johnson to Matthews and a 14-yard run by Johnson – but it wasn't near enough to knock off the unbeaten Wildcats.
"I'm really excited for our kids. Our kids deserve to be in Jackson because they play so hard," Calhoun City Head Coach Perry Liles said.
The Wildcats held Kalio Moore, West Bolivar's highly touted RB to only 92 yards rushing – a big part of the game plan Liles said.
"Defensively we stopped what they're good at and that's the run-game with number five (Moore)," Liles said. "I know we gave up some passes later in the game, but we just made them do things that they weren't used to doing. I just thought we played really well defensively and made them get away from their game."
The Wildcats will now have one more week of football as they go after the school's second football state championship.
"Our sophomore year we came up a little short, so we made a commitment our senior year to not lose any games and get back to Jackson," said Howard, who in addition to 148 receiving yards and a punt return for TD, intercepted a pass on defense and completed two passes for 23 yards. "We've taken it one game at a time and now we're here so we've got to go finish it."