The Leflore County Tigers edged the Charleston Tigers 24-22 on a touchdown and two-point conversion scored with just over 2 minutes left in the Class 2A North State championship game Friday night.
Charleston's Tigers closed out the season with a 9-4 record. Leflore, now 10-3, advances to the Dec. 4 Class 2A state championship match at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Leflore will face 14-0 Scott Central, who defeated Pelahatchie 60-14 in the 2A South State title game Friday night.
Despite a gametime temp in the mid 30s, an overflow crowd filled Tiger Stadium on the campus of Charleston High School. The home and visitors' bleachers were full and spectators lined the fences on both sides of the field. Onlookers saw quite a sparring match, but not the outcome that the black-and-gold faithful wanted or expected.
Leflore won the toss and elected to receive but could not make anything happen on their initial drive. The two teams exchanged possessions before Charleston started near their red zone and began a nine-play march.
Mook Prince broke a 17-yard run to put Charleston at the Leflore 15. Two plays later, Rod O'Bannon hit Prince for a 16-yard touchdown, then passed to him for the conversion that gave the hometown Tigers an 8-0 lead at 5:48 in the first.
After a Leflore punt pinned CHS at their own 10, the visitors mounted a defensive stand to force a three-and-out and a punt from the Charleston 11.
Taking advantage of starting field position at their own 44, Leflore parlayed the shorter field into points four plays later when wide receiver and sometime quarterback Dekari Johnson hit a wide-open Undrell Ellis for a 31-yard touchdown. Dezmond Ray ran in the conversion to tie the contest at 8 all with 26 seconds in the first half.
On their opening drive of the third quarter, Charleston's Quentin Carter had a good return to his own 45. Four plays later, O'Bannon connected with a wide-open Terrence Marco, who caught the ball at about the Leflore 20 and made it a 38-yard gain before getting knocked out of bounds at the 3. O'Bannon scored with a run on the next play, but the two-point pass try fell incomplete. CHS led 14-8 at 9:51 in the third quarter.
Leflore picked up a first down on their next drive before being forced to punt on a fourth-and-10 from their own 44.
Charleston started the ensuing drive at their own 17 but soon faced third-and-7 at the 20. Prince lined up at quarterback, but a hit as he was throwing the ball caused the pigskin to flutter only a short distance, and a Leflore defensive lineman plucked it out of midair for an interception at the CHS 19 with 6:22 in the third period.
On a strange third-and-8 play from the 17, Leflore's Johnson looked as though he would run but then was swarmed by defenders, forcing him back into the middle of the field where he lofted a prayer that was answered by receiver D'Arnez Dell for a 15-yard gain. With first-and-goal from the 2, Ray ran across the goal line on the next play. On the conversion, Johnson was very nearly tackled before he released the ball and D'Rion Freeman caught it in the end zone for the two-pointer that put Leflore up 16-14 with 4:21 in the third act.
The two teams exchanged punts, but there was controversy following one. It appeared that a Leflore returner was tackled in the end zone for a safety, but officials huddled to discuss it and eventually ruled a touchback at 2:02 in the third. Nevertheless, Leflore went three-and-out on that offensive possession.
With 11:52 in the fourth, Charleston began an 11-play drive that saw Prince score on a 5-yard carry. Prince, who had run the ball on eight of the 11 plays during the possession for 43 yards, carried for the two-point conversion that gave Charleston a 22-16 advantage with 7:54 left in the contest.
The two teams again exchanged punts before Leflore started a drive from their own 40-yard line with 4:12 remaining.
In five plays, Leflore moved the ball to the Charleston 46, where they faced a fourth-and-7. Dante Kelly was chased out of the pocket before seeing and passing to Undrell Ellis for a catch-and-run that resulted in a 46-yard touchdown. With the game then tied at 22-22, Ray carried for the all-important two-point conversion, plunging into the end zone to tack on what would be the decisive margin. Leflore led 24-22 with 2:13 left.
After the kickoff, Charleston took over at their own 34 with 2:07 remaining. A run for a 3-yard loss and two pass completions brought up fourth-and-13 from the 31. CHS head coach LaDon Taylor called a timeout with 1:10 left. After the break, O'Bannon threw for what would have been a first down, but a receiver could not grasp the ball and it fell to the ground.
Leflore took over at 1:05 and ran out the clock with two snaps from the victory formation.
Overall, the offensive statistics were fairly even. Charleston had 50 plays for 238 yards and Leflore had 52 plays for 231.
Charleston achieved 13 first downs, Leflore 14.
O'Bannon was 7 of 14 for 105 passing yards, while Leflore's signal callers completed 11 of 20 pass attempts for 144.
Marco had two receptions for 46 yards, Prince two for 23, Clay Taylor one for 22 and Korvel Murry two for 14.
CHS ran the football 35 times for 133 yards. Leflore rushed 32 times for 87 yards.
Leading Charleston's ground attack was Prince, with 14 carries for 62 yards. Quinterrius Suggs had eight runs for 37 yards, Corterrius Johnson eight for 24, O'Bannon four for 14 and Ezekial Davis one for minus 4.