Jacques Irving celebrates a big play during Friday's GISA Class A State Championship game against Memorial Day, which the Wildcats won, 33-21, for their second straight title.
CAMILLA — Surrounded by his players and a sea of orange-clad fans, Ross Worsham lifted up the trophy.
Underneath the lights at Centennial Stadium and with his hand securely wrapped around his second straight GISA Class A State title, the Westwood football coach kept it simple.
“How ’bout them Wildcats?” the teary-eyed coach said as the crowd roared.
Worsham and the Wildcats won their second championship in a row Friday night and extended their winning streak to 26 games with a 33-21 victory against Memorial Day — the very same team Westwood defeated in last season’s title game.
It was the eighth state championship and third repeat for the Wildcats, who won back-to-back titles in 1981 and 1982, and then again in 2000 and 2001. And as senior Wildcat quarterback Mason Worsham said after he was done posing with his team for a group photo that this one “was a war.”
The Wildcats took a 14-0 lead into halftime but watched the Blue Thunder march back and tie the game at 14-14 near the end of the third quarter. Memorial Day scored once in the fourth quarter, but three Westwood touchdowns in the fourth quarter — including two in the final two minutes — lifted the Wildcats to the moment they had been dreaming about all season.
“I’ll always remember this,” said Mason, who rushed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. “This is (the legacy) we wanted to leave right here. We worked hard for this day in the offseason, in the summer, before school started.”
It’s a legacy that will be talked about for ages in Camilla — and beyond.
“It feels amazing,” said sophomore running back J.T. Edore, who rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns. “Winning all of those in a row and keeping this going. Everybody will be looking up to us and talking about that team that won 26 in a row.”
Judging by the hundreds of fans packed into Centennial Stadium, they are already talking. Memorial Day head coach Michael Thompson, whose Blue Thunder had won the state titles in 2008 and 2009, also couldn’t stop complimenting the Wildcats after the game.
“They execute well, and they don’t make many mistakes,” Thompson said. “I’m happy that we came down here and played well, but you have to congratulate Westwood. They deserve everything they get. It’s a great coaching staff with great players.”
Those throngs of fans who packed into the stadium were in for a show, which started as soon as the Wildcats ran onto the field through the paper sign that said, “State Champs ‘10 … DO IT AGAIN.”
In the closing seconds of the first quarter, Westwood punter Caleb Morrell lined up to kick the ball, but instead faked a hand off and took it up the sidelines for a fake punt that gave the Wildcats a first down and set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Edore.
The Wildcats’ defense played tough against the electric Memorial Day offense the rest of the half, and Edore galloped in for his second touchdown of the game with 36 seconds left until halftime. His second score was a 10-yard run, and he punched in the two-point conversion to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead at the half.
However, the Blue Thunder, who had just 61 yards of total offense in the first half, started the third quarter with an onside kick, which they turned into a TD catch from Jonathan Deloach on a 3-yard pass from Earl Washington. Memorial Day’s Lamir Cohen tied the game at 14-14 just over three minutes later on a 27-yard run.
But the Wildcats weren’t about to let their dynasty slip away that easily. They came up with big play after big play in the final 12 minutes, starting with a Mason Worsham 1-yard TD run with 10:18 left that gave the Wildcats a 21-14 lead. Washington knotted it back up at 21-21 with a 9-yard TD run with 7:45 left, but the Wildcats came out and ran the ball right at Memorial Day on their next possession.
Mason’s second score of the game was a 30-yard run with 2:08 left that put the Wildcats back on top for good, but a missed extra point by Morrell gave the Blue Thunder some hope.
But it didn’t last long.
Twenty-one seconds later, senior Douglas Nobles fell on the biggest fumble recovery of his life on Memorial’s potential game-winning drive.
“I saw it on the ground,” Nobles said about the ball that was fumbled by Washington. “Nobody was going for it. It was, like, sitting there. I dove in and came up with it. I didn’t stay (in the pile) long with it. I got up and ran out with it and held it up.”
He may as well have held up the championship trophy.
“I let the fans know, and they were going crazy,” Nobles said.
They weren’t the only ones going crazy — Mason and the rest of the Wildcats were starting their own celebration right there on the field.
“I saw the ball on the ground, and I saw Douglas on top of it. I started going crazy,” said Mason who also had two interceptions, including one as time expired to seal it. “When we got that fumble, I knew that was it right there.”
Mason was one of nine seniors on Westwood’s roster, and he had talked all week about his senior class leaving a legacy and continuing a dynasty. The win was also a little extra special for the four-year starting quarterback, who got to share the ride with his father.
“He told me it was a good run,” Mason said about the conversation he had with his head coach and dad after the game. “It was pretty emotional. We will both never forget this night.”
Ross Worsham, who is also the father of freshman RB Chason Worsham, was nearly speechless as the win and the championship were settling in.
“I’m surprised I’m not breaking down right now,” Ross said. “I’m so proud of Mason. He has been a leader on this team for four years, and he stepped up (Friday) on both sides of the ball.
“I’m going to miss him so much it’s unreal. But if you gotta go out, what a way to go out.”