Winona quarterback An'Darius Coffey was sensational, as usual, in a 54-35 victory over defending 3A state champion Water Valley. But it was a special teams touchdown and a defensive TD that turned the game in the Tigers' favor.
“That was the turning point,” said Coach Joey Tompkins.
After a Water Valley touchdown tied the game at 28 in the second quarter, Adavion Hargrove returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. “We worked on returns the week before they game because they are so consistent on kickoffs,” Tompkins said.
“We normally don't spend a lot of time on kickoff returns. No. 1, if you are really good at kickoff returns, you're probably doing it a lot because the other team is scoring a lot. We knew they kicked it deep to the 10 each time, so we put in a new return to our sideline. We almost broke two or three others. We did a good job executing.”
Right after the kickoff return, senior linebacker Tay'shaun Pointer returned an interceptions 25 yards for another Tiger TD.
“They we're just running an RPO (run-pass option),” Tompkins said. “He (Water Valley quarterback) looked out and thought he saw the slot receiver open. He wasn’t open obviously. Tay’shaun stepped in front of him.”
The two quick touchdowns gave the Tigers a lead they never relinquished. “Offensively it was our best game of the season,” Tompkins said. “They stopped us one time when our starter were in. That was the first drive of the second half.”
Coffey led the offense. He was seven for seven passing for 154 yards and three touchdowns and carried 20 times for 207 yards and two TDs.
The Tigers also had strong performances on offense by wide receiver Robert McMath and running back Blake Cooper. McMath went over the century mark in receiving yardage for the fourth time in six games with four catches for 112 yards and two TDs. Cooper, who was limited earlier in the season by a sprained ankle, had 14 carries for 98 yards and one TD.
Defensively, Winona played well in the second half, holding Water Valley to seven points. Pointer led the defense with five solo tackles and two assists to go along with his interception. He is the team leader for the season with 33 tackles, including five for losses.
Malcolm Gholston and Zaevion Ward also had interceptions.
“We were a lot more fresh at the end of the game,” Tompkins said. “I felt that if we kept it close we would have a good chance to beat them. The way it started out, I didn’t know if we were ever going to stop them. The first time we stopped them was the pick six.”
Winona will have a week off, a time to heal and work on fundamentals, before beginning Region 3-3A play October 11 with a game against Coahoma Early College in Clarksdale. Coahoma (3-3) is led by quarterback Willie Eagins who has passed for 608 yards and four touchdowns and run for 211 yards and one TD.