TUPELO • A trying week ended on a high note for Tupelo.
With several starters out due to injuries, the Golden Wave held on to beat West Lauderdale 21-20 on Friday night and earn their first win of the Ty Hardin era.
It was the game that almost wasn’t. Tupelo (1-2) was originally scheduled to play Grenada, but COVID-19 forced a change in opponent. The day after scheduling North Panola, COVID-19 forced another change, and West Lauderdale became the foe two days before the game.
“We easily could’ve taken this week off. We probably should have, maybe,” Hardin said. “But we didn’t. Our kids did a phenomenal job fighting through all that.”
Tupelo was missing three starters on defense: linemen Jacarious Clayton and Romero Hampton, and outside linebacker Dalton Hughes. Offensive lineman Gentry Turner was also out, and then center Austin Harden got hurt in the second quarter.
Those absences led to Tupelo getting pushed around on the line of scrimmage. West Lauderdale (1-2) totaled 220 yards on the ground, led by Ja Karius Grant’s 149 yards on 33 carries.
“Four of your best players being out – two Division I D-lineman, a Division I offensive lineman and a Division I outside linebacker – yeah, it affects you. They leaned on us,” Hardin said.
But the Wave made stops when it counted most.
Middle linebacker Justin Wilson stuffed Grant at Tupelo’s 12-yard line on a fourth-and-3 early in the fourth quarter. On the Knights’ next possession, Colin Southward blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt to preserve the 21-20 lead with 2:11 left.
It was the second kicking miscue of the night for the visitors. After Grant scored on a 32-yard gallop in the third quarter, the game-tying PAT sailed wide.
While Tupelo’s offense wasn’t explosive, it finally found a ground game. Jarius McGinister raced 71 yards on the Wave’s first play from scrimmage for a TD.
He finished with 91 yards and two touchdowns, while Kyson Brown had 86 yards and a 39-yard score that put Tupelo ahead 21-14 early in the third.
Tupelo finished with 162 rushing yards.
Turning Point: After the Knights drove 55 yards in 11 plays, kicker Zach Walker’s field goal on fourth-and-3 was blocked.
Point Man: McGinister averaged 10.1 yards per carry. His 6-yard TD run in the second quarter gave Tupelo a 14-7 lead.
Talking Point: “Like coach Hardin said, we’ve finally got the monkey off our back. Going into division, we’re ready to play now.” – Tupelo linebacker Justin Wilson
• Tupelo was penalized 10 times for 85 yards.
• Tupelo’s second score was set up by Khalil McGlaun’s interception.
• Tupelo opens Division 1-6A play next week at home versus Hernando.