JACKSON, Miss. — Silliman needed to get out to fast start.
The Wildcats did just that and never looked back.
Behind a strong running game and a defense that forced three turnovers Silliman ran past Indianola Academy 40-26 to claim the MAIS Academy 3A state championship at Millsaps College’s Harper Davis Field on Thursday night.
It is the Wildcats (12-1) first state championship since 2001 and third state title in school history.
“The guys stepped up when they had to step up — when they needed to make plays,” said Silliman coach TJ Davis. “We preach to our guys all the time step up and do your job and make a play in the right spot.”
Wildcats couldn’t have asked for a better start.
The Wildcats scored on its opening drive on a 7-yard run by Reed Rushing. Silliman then recover a squib kick and scored five plays later on a 3-yard touchdown run by Zach Kelly.
Then John Dylan Cook stepped in front of a pass and intercepted it. Kelly found LeBlanc on a 26-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats a 20-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
“This team (Indianola) has been jumping out on folks all season, and when we jumped on them, they didn’t know what to do,” linebacker Will Douglas said. “This is the greatest feeling getting to go out as a state champion my senior year.”
Silliman quarterback Zach Kelly also went out with a bang.
Kelly finished 5 of 15 passing for 138 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had 138 yards rushing on 20 carries with two touchdowns.
Both of his touchdown passes went to LeBlanc. The first was a 26-yard pass and the second a 58-yarder with 4:51 left in the second quarter to give Silliman a 27-6 lead.
His 52-yard touchdown run with 2:46 left in the third quarter put the Wildcats up 34-19 and put a damper on an Indianola Academy comeback.
In the fourth quarter, Silliman took 10 minutes off the clock on a drive that was capped off by a Michael Beauchamp 4-yard touchdown run.
“We have been known to come out and jump out on teams,” Kelly said. “I can’t even remember the last time we trailed in a football game, and that shows people we were ready to come and punch them in the mouth and jump on them early.”
Kelly also led the Wildcats to the MAIS Academy AA state championship last year in baseball.
“It feels great to go out on top because football is such a team sport and shows that all the hard work pays off that we did in the summer,” he said. “I cannot be more proud of this team.”
Taylor Roberson had a 1-yard touchdown run and a 31-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Wilson for Indianola Academy (13-1). The Colonels are still seeking its first state title since 1976.
“It was a outstanding football game. Both teams played their hearts out,” Indianola Academy coach Tommy Nester said.
“We dug ourselves in a hole early and didn’t recover enough.”