Worth the wait: West defeats Lake Highlands, 42-35, for first playoff win in eight years
COPPELL -- The Plano West football team was locked out of its locker room immediately after Friday night's game.
The Wolves (7-4) didn't seem to care as they were too busy celebrating a 42-35 bi-district victory over Lake Highlands (8-3) that represented the team's first playoff win since 2004 and just the second in program history.
"It's a great feeling," said Mike Hughes, West head coach. "It's great for our program, but more importantly, I'm happy for these kids."
Some of the players knew it had been eight years since West won in the playoffs.
"Yeah, that's a big part of the joy I'm feeling right now," said Travis Korry, West senior quarterback.
Others did not.
"That's crazy," said Soso Jamabo, West sophomore running back. "It feels like we made a little history then."
It wasn't easy making that history.
The Wolves led from the first possession of the game, but three straight Lake Highlands' touchdowns and consecutive three-and-outs from West allowed the Wildcats to put up 21 straight points and tie the game, 35-35, with 10:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"Of course you're concerned, but we know this team is never out of any game," Hughes said. "It was 35-35, so basically it was like it was 0-0; we weren't behind and I told the guys, 'we're OK.'"
West responded with its biggest drive of the season.
The Wolves moved the ball 11 plays in 85 yards with a steady dose of carries by Korry and Jamabo. That duo paced a West rushing attack that amassed 374 yards. Korry, who also completed 7-of-9 passes for 111 yards, ran the ball 23 times for 179 yards and Jamabo toted the rock 29 times for 160 yards and five touchdowns.
"There was a lot of tough yardage," Jamabo said. "A lot of banging out there."
That was evident once West crossed the Lake Highlands' 10-yard line as Jamabo left the game temporarily after, "getting the wind knocked out of me." He was back on the field in time for a 4th-and-2 from the 5, which the Wolves opted to go for.
"It was the right call right then," Hughes said.
He had the right running back to execute the play as Jamabo ran in a 5-yard score for a 42-35 lead with 6:54 to go.
"I thought about everything we had done all year and how I didn't want it to end," Jamabo said. "Then I just found the hole and followed my blocks."
And when he scored?
"That was probably the best feeling I've had all year," Jamabo said.
That was Jamabo's fifth touchdown of the night.
"Like I've said before, that kid is going to be one of the best, if not the best, backs in the country by the time he is a senior," Hughes said. "And he wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line."
West's defense, which had been bullied at times by the Lake Highlands' rushing attack of Trent Jones, Tyler Hughes and Elbert Landry (who each reached at least 60 yards and combined for 209 yards rushing), still had to make a stop.
Instead the Wolves made two.
"If you watched them in the fourth quarter, our defense had started to become a lot more confident," Korry said. "So I was confident in them too."
A sack by senior Jordan Hall ended the Wildcats' penultimate possession and the Wolves closed the game by forcing Jones, who completed 11-of-20 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, to throw four straight incompletions.
Lake Highlands had trouble in the first half thanks to a crushing tackle from senior Oshen Matheson on fourth down of the Wildcats' first series and an interception by senior Logan Caillouet midway through the second quarter.
"We felt like whoever could take care of the ball would win," Hughes said.
West's offense, which was without junior running back Auston Anderson, had no such difficulties. The Wolves scored on their first four possessions with three touchdowns from Jamabo and a 14-yard scoring run from Austin Copeland on his first carry equating a 28-7 lead with 4:23 left in the half. Copeland ran the ball six times for 35 yards and caught two passes, a total matched by Jamabo and senior Zac Gideo.
Holding a 28-14 halftime lead, West forced a three-and-out and got a 4-yard touchdown run from Jamabo to take a 35-14 lead with 8:44 left in the third.
Lake Highlands, thanks to an increased focus on passing and multi-reception games from Jamarice Preston, Sam Iheke and Tyree Britton, pushed West by tying the game in the fourth.
"When you face adversity like that," Jamabo said, "that's when you learn what kind of team you've got."
Jamabo helped show what type of team West is with his fifth touchdown the final points in a 42-35 victory.
"You have to give Lake Highlands credit for how they played, especially in that third quarter," Hughes said, "but our guys dug down, came back ... and I'm really proud of them right now."
West will attempt to get past the area round for the first time in program history at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it plays South Garland at Eagle Stadium in Allen.