LELAND — There wasn't a seat in the house at Friday's much-anticipated matchup between Washington County rivals Leland and Simmons High. The huge crowd lined every corner of the stadium, while most people stood trying to get to see who would win the dogfight between two of the Delta's top teams.
And although Simmons and Leland fans cheered on two different sides of the stadium, everyone in attendance is family, said Leland coach Eugene Sanders, whose team won 14-0.
“When Hollandale and Leland play, you have fraternity brother against fraternity brother; you have cousins against cousins....This rivalry is like Ole Miss against Mississippi State and Jackson State against Alcorn (State)....and Auburn against Alabama,” said Sanders.
Through three quarters, it looked as if the first team to score would come away with the victory. And, ironically, it happened that way.
On the last play of the third quarter, Leland scored the first touchdown of the game when junior tailback Arthur Morris scored on a reverse from three yards out. Leland missed the extra point.
Leland struck quickly on their next possession when junior quarterback Davante Overton found Kenya Dennis open across the middle for a touchdown.
Leland's Brandon Capers scored on the 2-point conversion pass from Overton to cap the scoring.
“It came down to who wanted it the most. And I figured the team who made the fewest mistakes will win — and (Leland) made the fewest mistakes,” said Simmons coach Carlos Thompson Sr. “You can't be a good team with six turnovers. They capitalized off our turnovers."
The man responsible for forcing a couple of those turnovers was Dennis — who along with a receiving touchdown, added two interceptions.
“(Dennis) has come a long way, I tell you that,” said Sanders. “He played that cornerback (position) like it supposed to be played.”
Simmons quarterback Debrille Grant had a good connection going on with junior receiver Rashuun Alexander, but it wasn't enough to dismantle a stingy Leland defense that forced six turnovers.
Simmons did, however, stall a Leland offense that has put up at least 20 points in every game this season. And they did it without Delta Democrat Times Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Lazarius Chase, who is suffering from a severe leg injury.
“We miss (Chase) a whole lot. He's the guy that anchored our defense,” said Thompson. “But our defensive guys played well. We gave them good field position.....We're not good enough to drive 80 yards on a good team. It's a game of field position and they had better field position in the second half. And it's a game of momentum — and they had the momentum tonight.”
The loss hurts, Thompson said, but it doesn't affect their shot at making a playoff run.
"It wasn't a district game, so I feel good about that — so the loss doesn't hurt us early on in the season," he said. "We just have to go work on our mental mistakes."