Wingfield quarterback La’Andre Thomas dashes away from West Jones defenders to pick up a first down in the Falcons 22-17 win over the Mustangs that clinched the first playoff berth for Wingfield in nearly a decade. (Photo by Josh Nichols)

COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF 2017

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Game No. 8: Wingfield at Heidelberg

Going into the 2016 season, the Wingfield Falcons hadn’t had a winning season in 10 years and had not been to the playoffs since 2007. Their fortunes may have turned on a single non-region game the second Friday night of September in Jasper County.

Behind the play of senior quarterback La’Andre Thomas, the Falcons battled back from a double-digit halftime deficit at Heidelberg and forced the game into overtime before upending the Oilers 42-40 in two extra sessions.

The day before traveling with his team to face Heidelberg, the Clarion-Ledger published a story about Thomas, not for his accolades on the football field at the south Jackson high school, but about the adversity that he had overcome just to survive.

At the age of 5, Thomas lived in a shotgun house in an alley off East Fortification Street in Jackson with a woman he knew as his grandmother. He helped push grocery carts full of belongings, collected cans for money and dug in dumpsters searching for scraps of food.

“That’s how we ate,” Thomas told a C-L reporter. “I didn’t think anything was wrong with it … but this is my first time telling anybody it.”

Around the fourth grade, Thomas moved in with a woman he knew as his “auntie” and shared a bed with at least two other children that was oftentimes soaked in urine. They lived without electricity in a home for two years, filling jugs with water from a neighbor’s hose after hopping over a fence in the middle of the night.

“That’s how we took baths, washed our clothes and drank,” Thomas said. “That’s how we did all of that.”

By the time he reached the seventh grade, the Department of Human Service stepped in and took Thomas from that environment and placed him in a foster home that he has lived at ever since.

“When you been through some of the things this kid has been through in his life, you can only go up because there is no more down,” Wingfield head coach Joel Sinclair told the C-L. “Down doesn’t exist for this kid anymore, because he’s been there. Everything he does, he works so that he doesn’t go back to where he was.”

The night after the story was published, Thomas

(6-foot-1,175) accounted for 86 percent of the Falcons’ offense in leading them to the road win over the Oilers. He passed for 217 yards and two TDs and ran for another 141 yards and four scores.

That night in Jasper County, Thomas and the Falcons faced an equally impressive dual-threat QB, Heidelberg’s Eddy Pierce. Pierce passed for 123 yards and two TDs and ran for 159 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and three more TDs on the night.

With Heidelberg leading 20-6 at halftime, the Falcons could easily have laid down the rest of the way, but behind Thomas’ leadership, they rallied to outscore the Oilers 20-6 in the second half and sent the game to its first overtime tied at 26.

Both teams scored a TD and converted a try for two in the first overtime. After Wingfield took a 42-34 lead in the second overtime, the Oilers scored a TD, but the Falcons’ defense stopped the Oilers on the two-point conversion to earn the win.

The Falcons entered the contest 2-0 and went on to start 4-0 on the season before losing their next three games. However, Wingfield rallied and picked up wins in three of its last four games beating South Jones 46-41 and in the season finale upended West Jones 22-17 in Soso to earn its first playoff appearance since 2007.

The Falcons lost in the first round of the playoffs to Picayune, but their 7-5 finish on the season was the most wins for Wingfield since the 2000 season. On National Signing Day, Thomas signed with the University of Memphis, where he is listed as a defensive back for the Tigers and plans to major in marketing management.

Heidelberg was 3-0 on the season coming into the game against Wingfield and the loss sent them in a downward spiral that saw the Oilers lose three of their next four games, including a 40-28 loss at NE Jones. But the Oilers regrouped down the stretch and won their final three games to earn the No. 3 seed out of Region 5-2A.

In the playoffs, Heidelberg knocked off Puckett, 22-13, in the first round and beat North Forrest 30-16 in the second round before being eliminated by Bassfield in the South semifinals 41-22.

The Oilers finished the year at 9-5, their most wins in a season since 2002. Heidelberg’s two playoff wins was the first time it had done that since 2004.