Horn Lake High School senior defensive back Drew Leverson can be excused for coming to school this week wearing a Superman outfit.
After all, he became his football team’s “Super Hero” with his interception and 40-yard return late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s MHSAA 6A state championship game that clinched a 31-27 victory over Oak Grove of Hattiesburg, giving the 15-0 Eagles its first state football title in school history.
Oak Grove finished its season with a 12-3 record.
“Wonderful, great,” said Leverson about his late game heroics and state championship victory. “We were in two-man (coverage), I saw the ball and I made a play.”
“The amount of happiness I have for these guys is like nothing I’ve ever felt,” responded coach Brad Boyette about his team’s success. “This is a group of guys that were 2-10 as freshmen. They got their teeth kicked in and decided they didn’t like it. It’s just unbelievable the work they have put in.”
In a high-scoring first half, it was Horn Lake that struck quickly in the first quarter, going 56 yards on six plays, finished by Patrick Gilliam’s 19 yard touchdown run at 9:17 of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Oak Grove answered just as quickly, going 41 yards in four yards, finished off by Tyson Keys’ 11-yard reception from quarterback John Rhys Plumlee to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:31 remaining in the first quarter.
It would be Horn Lake’s turn with Jarnoissi Hopson’s 19-yard reception of a Raydarius Jones’ pass that took him into the end zone for the Eagles’ second score of the night and a 14-7 advantage with 4:32 left in the opening quarter.
Oak Grove again answered with a 39-yard drive in four plays ended with Liam Breithaupt’s 38-yard catch from Plumlee with 1:55 left in the quarter. Blake Ortego missed the extra point, however, and Horn Lake took a 14-13 lead into the quarter break.
Horn Lake was kept out of the end zone in the second quarter, but Issac Marquez’ 21-yard field goal with 10:31 left in the half gave the Eagles a 17-13 lead.
However, Oak Grove finished the first half scoring with Kevin Barnett catching a 55-yard pass from Plumlee for a score with 2:29 remaining and took a 20-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The back-and-forth affair continued in the last four minutes of the third quarter when Jones found Octavius Williams on a 51-yard scoring play to retake the lead for Horn Lake at 24-20 with 3:53 left in the quarter. The drive, set up by a fumble recovery, took 32 seconds and three plays.
But, once again, Oak Grove answered when Plumlee found Barnett for his second scoring catch of the night, this time from 15 yards with 2:24 remaining in the quarter and a 27-24 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles retook the lead with an 11-play, 44-yard drive done mostly on the ground and finished when Gilliam went over from one yard out. After the extra-point kick, Horn Lake led 31-27 and it would eventually be those points that clinched the contest.
Oak Grove again had chances late, but it was on a drive after Gilliam’s touchdown as the Warriors got deeper into Eagles’ territory that Plumlee would throw his only interception of the night. Leverson’s pick in the Warriors’ red zone was brought out toward midfield.
Horn Lake’s offense would kill the remaining two minutes and the celebration began.
It is the first state championship for the Eagles since playoffs began in 1981 and came in Horn Lake’s first state championship appearance. It is also DeSoto County’s first state football title since a Scott Samsel-led Olive Branch Conquistador team earned a 6A title seven years ago in 2011 with a 35-34 conquest of Petal in the championship contest.
As expected, Plumlee was the majority of Oak Grove’s offense, as he threw for 348 yards (18-of-34 with one interception) and four touchdowns.
Plumlee also led the Warriors' running attack with 31 net yards on 11 carries.
Meanwhile, Jones tossed for 175 yards (10-15 with no interceptions) and two touchdowns. Jamario Harris was his team’s top ground gainer with 90 yards on nine attempts.
Williams caught four passes for 63 yards and a score for Horn Lake. Barnett led Oak Grove’s receiving corps with six catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We’re Horn Lake and people take a lot of pride in our community,” Boyette said. “When this group was playing seventh and eighth-grade ball, you could just see their love for the game and their athletic ability and the determination to win.”
Win they have, and the magical season is now complete with a gold football coming back to Horn Lake and DeSoto County.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.