Will Jones’ six touchdowns –five passing, one rushing—propelled the Pirates over West Forsyth in the Third Round of the 2016 NCHSAA 4-AA football playoffs at Marion Kirby Stadium on Friday night. Three of Jones’ touchdown passes were to senior WR Ronald Polite. The Jones-Polite tandem single-handedly outscored their opponent as the Pirates beat the visiting West Forsyth Titans by a final score of 49-14 to advance to the 4-AA West Regional Final game.
The start of the game was a defensive battle, as both teams were forced to three and out on their first possession. The Pirates began to win the field position battle early, however, due in large part to the leg of Page junior Punter Thomas Murray.
Once the Pirates offense got rolling, they were not to be stopped, bad news for the visiting Titans.
The scoring started when Will Jones hooked up with Ronald Polite from 45 yards out. Jones, who struggled in the first game of the 2016 playoffs two weeks ago, appeared to be picking up right where he left off last Friday night when he also accounted for six touchdowns.
The Pirates defense answered the call following their first score and recovered a fumble by West Forsyth’s Kenyar McPhatter.
Only three plays into the ensuing drive, Ronald Polite made one of the most amazing catches of the year. He ran a slant route down the near sideline, and Will Jones put the ball in the front corner of the end zone. Polite, with coverage on him, went up with one hand and hauled in the pass for a touchdown. The score was the second in a short 46 seconds and the Pirates led 14-0 as the first quarter came to a close.
Ronald Polite’s “back to the basics” mindset from last week seems to have been very successful.
He nonchalantly gave a description of his spectacular one-handed grab.
“I knew I had a step on the defender,” Polite said. “Will (Jones) put it out there. I knew I had to make the catch, and I did.”His quarterback, the other half of the scoring play, agreed that it was an incredible catch.
“I felt like I put the ball in a good place. Ronald just went up and got it. That was one of the best catches all year,” Jones said of the sure-handed receiver.
Following Polite’s highlight-reel catch, the Titans began a drive that would end with them putting up their first points of the game. West Forsyth quarterback Gianni Smith found Jaquan McMillian from 37 yards out, and the Titans had cut the Pirate lead to 7.
The punting efforts of Page’s Thomas Murray greatly contributed to his team’s success. During one punt attempt, Murray had to bob and weave through defenders as West Forsyth junior and 2018 Top-100 recruit KJ Henry came barreling towards him. Murray calmly booted a 40-plus yard punt to pin the Titans deep in their own territory.
Murray’s “don’t think, just punt” mentality serves him well.
“I don’t really get too nervous in situations, I just kick it,” he said. “I just reacted. Number 5(KJ Henry) was coming at me pretty quick, and I just kicked it as hard as I could.”
Page’s Javon Leake made his presence known with 3:15 remaining in the first half when he scored on a 6-yard rush that put the Pirates back in front by a score of 21-7. Leake still wasn’t looking 100 percent from a high ankle sprain he suffered more than a month ago.
Jones found receivers Anthony Rodriguez and Assad Alston for touchdowns in the second half, as Page began to pull away for good.
The Titans weren’t done, however, and quarterback Gianni Smith found McMillian down the far sideline for a 49-yard score in the third quarter. That was the last time the Titans would score.
Will Jones’ sixth touchdown of the night iced the game when he rushed 60 yards to finish the scoring. With that TD, Jones has accounted for 12 touchdowns in the past two weeks since starting the playoffs on a less commanding note against Olympic when he completed only three passes.
“Last week and this week I’ve had amnesia because each day is a new day,” Jones said. “I came out with the same mentality as I did last week, and I performed just as well.”
With Ronald Polite’s and Will Jones’ big performances in the last two games, the only big gun that hasn’t put up huge numbers in the playoffs is the injured Javon Leake.
Leake hopes to be himself again when his team plays Vance on Friday night.
“It’s getting there,” Leake said of his nagging ankle. “It’s still sore. I’m still limping on some plays, but every week I keep icing it. I have to keep taking care of it so it will get better.”
Coach Kevin Gillespie was jubilant about the win.
“I’m glad they’re on my side,” Gillespie joked when asked about the performance of Pirate standouts Polite, Jones, Murray, and Leake.
“Unbelievable,” he said of Polite’s catches. “He made some plays tonight that . . . should be on SportsCenter.
“Right now, Will Jones is locked in, and he is loaded,” Gillespie said.
He is happy with distribution of play within his team.
“When you become multi-faceted, it makes you a whole lot tougher to stop. If they can make you one dimensional, it’s tough to beat good teams. When you can do multiple things, and we have multiple guys who can do multiple things, it makes the other team’s job hard.
“We made some mistakes,” he continued, “but this is high school football. We did a lot of good things, too. I’m really proud of our guys.”
The Pirates hung around after the conclusion of the game to see if they would be on the road this coming Friday to play the number one seed Butler in Charlotte or if they would continue their 2016 run at their home, Marion Kirby Stadium, against third-ranked Vance. Vance pulled off an upset in overtime against Butler in overtime (50-49) and, as it turns out, will travel to Greensboro for the West Regional Final of the 4-AA playoffs. The winner will advance to the State Championship game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
(PAGE) Ronald Polite 45 pass from Will Jones (Thomas Murray kick)
(PAGE) Polite 21 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(WFO) Jaquan McMillian 37 pass from Gianni Smith (Matt Harkey kick)
(PAGE) Javon Leake 6 run (Murray kick)
(PAGE) Polite 30 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(PAGE) Assad Alston 23 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(WFO) McMillian 49 pass from Smith (Harkey kick)
(PAGE) Anthony Rodriguez 5 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(PAGE) Jones 60 run (Murray kick)
Will Jones: 14-23 211yds, 3 TD ; 5 car 87yds, TD
Ronald Polite: 4 rec 107yds, 3TD
Javon Leake: 21 car 90yds, TD
Assad Alston: 5 rec 63yds, TD
Anthony Rodriguez: 1 rec 5yds, TD ; 1 car 10yds
Thomas Murray: (7-7) PAT’s
West Forsyth Stats:
Gianni Smith: 4-16 91yds, 2TD
Jaquan McMillian: 2 rec 80yds, 2TD
Mack Duke: 20car 84yds