November 18, 2012 12:38:18 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
FULTON -- Don't put it past the Noxubee County High School football team's defense.
You may think a scoreboard can only count forward, but the Tigers are out to prove to the state of Mississippi that a defense can push opponents into negative numbers.
Thanks to force of will, team speed, and a fearsome pass rush, Noxubee County proved again Friday it has one of the state's best defenses. Sprinkle in another solid running performance by Darrell Robinson and some fireworks in the passing game and you get a team that in preparing a championship recipe just in time for the holidays.
DeAngelo Ballard connected with Charles Hughes on a 36-yard touchdown pass, Robinson scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter, and the Noxubee County defense delivered another dominating performance in a 16-3 victory against Itawamba Agricultural in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs at Indian Field.
Noxubee County (14-0) will play host to Louisville, which defeated Houston 46-21 on Friday night, at 7 p.m. Friday in the North State title game. The Tigers beat the Wildcats 41-28 in Louisville in the regular season. The 28 points are the most a team has scored on Noxubee County this season.
"It doesn't matter what game it is, West Point, Lafayette, if our offense ends up scoring, 3-0, 6-0, 7-0, 8-0, the game is over with in our eyes," Noxubee County senior Javancy Jones said. "If we don't give up any points, it is automatically over with."
IAHS opened the game focused on making a game of it. The Indians (12-1) held the Tigers on three plays on the game's opening drive. They then converted two third downs, including a 36-yard run by senior running back Ashton Shumpert, to move quickly into the red zone. But like it did all night, Noxubee County dialed up a play when it needed to be made. The Tigers hit Shumpert for a 1-yard loss on first-and-10 from their 17. Following a game of 2 yards, Noxubee County sacked quarterback Tyler Dossett for a 4-yard loss. The play forced the Indians to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Dossett.
"You could count them as points, but it still felt good," Jones said. "They are a great team. They are 12-0 and we are 13-0. Just to hold them to three points felt good."
Jones said the score pumped the Tigers up, even if they don't like to give up points. He said the defense gained even more momentum once the offense found its rhythm and moved the ball on the Indians.
Jones said the defense also takes motivation from the lack of respect Noxubee County's defense gets from people in the state of Mississippi. He feels many only look at the points Darrell Robinson puts up at running back. While acknowledging Robinson is a "great" player who fuels the offense, he said the defense is just as strong because it is the sum of its parts.
"We are the No. 1 defense in the state," Jones said. "We have a lot of weapons on defense that people don't know about, that aren't really out there. They are like silent assassins."
Senior lineman Dylan Bradley didn't play like a defender who wanted to sneak up on anybody. After missing most of the week due to illness (migraine headaches, sore throat, chest pain) Bradley flew from sideline to sideline making plays. In the first quarter, Bradley made a tackle on the far side of the field and got tangled up with an official on the Itawamba sidelines on the Indians' fifth play. Bradley had to be helped off the field after aggravating a knee injury he suffered in the regular season against Louisville. He shook off the incident and returned to terrorize Dossett and his offensive teammates.
"It gave me a little problem, but I took one play off and went right back in," Bradley said. "I took some Ibuprofen, and once you do that, the pain is temporary. The pain went away, and you can see the outcome."
In the fourth quarter, Bradley was lined up on the left side and chased down a scrambling Dossett with a hit from behind for a 3-yard loss on third-and-seven. The hit sent him gliding off to the Tigers' sideline and into the glow of a hyped-up crowd.
"I never will quit on my teammates because I have some great teammates, and I know they will never quit on me," Bradley said. "I didn't feel any pressure, and when you feel relaxed you play a good game, and that is basically what we did tonight."
Noxubee County held IAHS to 37 yards after its initial drive. The Indians went three-and-out on three of their final four drives of the first half. To compound matters, Shumpert, a member of The Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen, which recognizes 12 of the state's top players, had 55 yards on 14 carries. It was only the second time this season he was held to less than 100 yards. He had 58 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-14 victory against Tishomingo County on Oct. 26.
Without Shumpert, who entered the game with more than 1,732 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, or running back Charles Moore, who came in with 1,333 yards and 22 touchdowns, able to generate much of anything, Dossett was left to throw the ball a season-high 23 times. He completed 11 passed for 66 yards.
The three points were the fewest IAHS scored in a game since a 34-0 loss to West Point on Oct. 7, 2005, a span of 89 games. Their previous low this season was 17 in the season opener against Saltillo.
Bradley praised Shumpert, who will be his teammate on the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star team, for 34 seconds in an interview following the game. He said Shumpert is the second-best running back in the state -- behind Robinson, of course -- and that he had him in his sights a couple of times only to miss him.
But Bradley said the swarm is the key to the Tigers' defense. Even though he might miss, teammates like Jones, Eric Hunt, Antonio Ryland, the defensive linemen, and the cornerbacks coming to the ball to make plays.
"He is one of the best, but we come out here for business," Bradley said. "After the game, we shake hands because business is done."
Louisville is the next step in Noxubee County's business trip to Jackson, the site of the Class 4A state title game. Bradley and Jones agreed the Tigers still have something to prove, especially considering the Wildcats rallied in the second half against a defense that isn't accustomed to giving up one touchdown, let alone 28 points.
"We challenged these guys and told them they were going to have to play a really great game for us to win," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "We knew they had two great running backs. To shut those two running backs down like we did tonight says a lot about these young men. They just played lights out football. If we want to go to Jackson, it is going to take playing defense like we did tonight."
Bradley will make sure the Tigers play that way. Before the game, a member of the team's training staff said Bradley was like a "caged animal" in the week leading up to the game against IAHS. He took out his pent up frustration about not being able to practice. This week, Bradley may use something else as motivation, like the fact Houston High defensive lineman Chris Jones, a Mississippi State University commitment, received his 2013 Under Armour All-America jersey in a presentation Friday at the school.
Noxubee County beat Houston 0-13 in the regular season.
"We have something to prove. Everybody underestimates our defense," Bradley said. "During the week, a couple of my teammates called me and told me they are saying, 'A couple of us weren't going to be factors in this game.' But when it came down to it, you could see one of the main factors in the win was a factor. If you aren't going to give us our respect, we are going to take it by force. We don't want anything given to us. You have to work for whatever you get in life. That's what we are doing right now, and we are working for our respect."
In the end, Jones, Bradley, Ryland, and Hunt, some of the players people on message boards said wouldn't be a factor, would up in control of the game.
"Everybody stepped up tonight and took their game to another level," Bradley said. "That is what you have to do in the playoffs. ... When you get to the championship game in Jackson, it is everything on the line."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.