Rockets face West Point at North State
For the second week in a row, Hunter Bavetta kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds to lift the Neshoba Central Rockets to a 23-20 victory over Lafayette in the second round of the Class 5A state football playoffs.
The Rockets, now 12-0, advance to the North State championship game Friday when they visit 10-0 West Point. The Green Wave advanced to the finals by defeating Vicksburg 42-6.
“We beat a very good team,” Coach Patrick Schoolar said. “Both the offense and the defense played well. I am going to say we had almost 500 yards in offense. Overall, it was our most complete game.”
In 2019, Neshoba Central played at West Point for the North State championship, with the Green Wave taking a 20-7 victory. The Green Wave went on to defeat Picayune for the Class 5A state championship. They have been in the state finals for the past six seasons.
Schoolar said his seniors remember the 2019 meeting with the Green Wave.
“Most of our defense started in that game,” Schoolar said. “They are a physical downhill running team. They pound on you, play good defense and keep the ball away from you. They don’t make mistakes.”
The Rockets kept the ball away from Lafayette in the first quarter, with the offense staying on the field the entire 12 minutes, minus a kickoff return.
The Rockets took the opening kickoff and got the ball on the 35-yard line. On first down, quarterback Eli Anderson connected with Dedrick McWilliams on a 22-yard pass completion that put the Rockets in Commodore territory. Twelve plays later, Anderson found McWilliams again for a 20-yard TD pass play. Bavetta kicked the extra point, and the Rockets led 7-0 with 6:04 left in the first quarter.
Lafayette answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The kick was good, and the game was tied at 7-7 with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
The Rockets took the kickoff and ran 13 plays before running into a fourth down on the Lafayette 27-yard line. Bavetta came on to kick a 43-yard field goal with 11:46 remaining in the second quarter. Neither team scored again in the half and the Rockets led by three at the half.
Bavetta kicked a 40-yard field goal during the third quarter to put the Rockets up 13-7.
Lafayette tied the game when running back Jayden Reed ran 28 yards for a touchdown, capping a 63-yard drive that took five plays. The extra point try failed, and the game was tied at 13-13 with 5:36 left in the game.
The Rockets took the kickoff on their 33-yard line. Two plays later, Anderson connected with Elijah Ruffin on a 53-yard TD pass play. Bavetta’s kick was good, and the Rockets led 20-13 with 4:56 remaining.
The teams exchanged punts. The Commodores took over on the Neshoba Central 35-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Charlie Fair found Kylen Vaughn on a 24-yard TD pass play. The kick was good, and the game was tied at 20-20 with 1:07 left in regulation.
The Rockets took the kickoff. Anderson completed consecutive passes to Ja’Naylon Dupree, Ruffin and Bryceton Spencer to put the ball on the Lafayette 15-yard line. Anderson ran for one-yard, and there was a six-yard loss on a run.
With 12 seconds left, Bavetta kicked a 37-yard field goal, and the Rockets advanced to the North State championship game.
The Rockets finished the game with 345 passing yards and 120 rushing yards, giving them 465 total yards. Lafayette had 68 yards rushing and 153 passing, giving them 225 total yards.
Anderson completed 27-of-43 passing attempts for all of Neshoba Central’s passing yards. Spencer had six catches for 68 yards, while McWilliams had seven catches for 100 yards. Dupree had eight catches for 85 yards. Ken Drummond was the leading rusher with 72 yards on 13 carries.
Defensively, Jaharon Griffin had 11 tackles and three assists. Ruffin finished with six solo tackles and three assists. Beau Holley had five solos and four assists. Kelbee Holmes had three solos and six assists. Maxton Woodward has one solo tackle and six assists. Braydon Gibson had one solo, a sack and five assists. Anthony Hopson had two solo tackles and seven assists.
Lafayette finishes the season with a 10-3 record.