August 23, 2009 12:40:00 AM
MACON -- The Noxubee County High School football team picked up where it left off last season.
The Tigers pitched seven shutouts in 2008 en route to the Class 4A State championship.
On Friday night, the Tigers notched their first shutout of 2009 with a 30-0 victory against Starkville in the season opener for both teams.
"We did that a lot last year, but we weren''t expecting a shutout here tonight," Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller. "We''re proud of it and the guys really played hard. We were out of position a lot, but we made up for it with quickness. Not bad for the first game."
Noxubee County rolled up 320 yards and capitalized on three Yellow Jacket turnovers. The Tigers rushed for 142 yards and threw for 123.
Noxubee County senior Vincent Sanders is one of the state''s top wide receivers, but he lined up at quarterback against Starkville and completed 6 of 9 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored another touchdown on the ground.
"We knew if he was up under center we were going to have to run the ball more and he could run it too," Miller said. "I''d rather have him out wide, but it worked out all right. He might have to stay there for a while."
Fullback Earnest Harmon showcased his receiving skills, hauling in four passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
"If Vincent is going to have to play quarterback I''ve got to have some hands," Miller said. "Earnest has got the best hands on the team. He will be out there a lot when Vincent is under center."
Patreon Hopkins led the Tigers'' rushing attack with 69 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Starkville High coach Bill Lee said Noxubee County''s speed on both sides of the ball made the difference.
"You can''t hide speed," Lee said. "They are fast and quick and we weren''t on both sides of the ball. You can see who was the faster team."
The Tigers wasted little time putting up points. Sanders returned the opening kickoff 47 yards and then carried the ball in on a bootleg to the right from 3 yards out five plays later.
Sanders hit Jontae Skinner for the two-point conversion for the early 8-0 lead.
The Tigers'' Denarrius Hunt recovered a fumble by Starkville quarterback Jaquez Johnson on the Yellow Jackets'' opening possession
Sanders took advantage of the field position and rolled left to hit Harmon from 30 yards for the score. Hopkins ran in the two-point conversion for a 16-0 advantage.
Starkville pinned the Tigers inside the 1 just before halftime, but Noxubee County orchestrated a 12-play drive that was highlighted by a 49-yard reception by Harmon. Sanders then found Harmon with a 19-yard scoring strike, and Hopkins pounded home the two-point play.
"We needed that," Miller said. "We weren''t expecting to score because they had us pinned down on the half-yard line. We were just going to go in up by two touchdowns. But after we got to pounding them and got to moving it, we saw we could do some things and put more pressure on them and were able to go up 24-0 at halftime."
The Tigers scored on their first possession of the second half when Hopkins broke loose on a 61-yard touchdown scamper. He also picked off a pass on the next play from scrimmage.
Noxubee County received a scare early in the fourth quarter. Leading 30-0, Sanders was in at safety and came up to hit running back Billy Shed after an 11-yard reception on the right sideline. The hit left Sanders woozy and with pain in his jaw.
After spending a few minutes on the sideline with medical personnel, Sanders walked to the ambulance and was taken to the hospital. He returned a text message just after midnight stating that the doctors couldn''t find anything wrong but set up a dentist appointment for him Saturday.
Starkville had 105 yards offense (66 yards passing, 33 rushing) and three turnovers.
"You win together and you lose together," Lee said. "We had turnovers and a lack of execution. We will grow from it. I just see us getting better.. We just have to go back to the drawing board and work. We lack depth, and we''ve just got to find some depth to play four quarters."
Johnson completed 8 of 20 passes for 66 yards and an interception.
Jakarta Agnew led the Yellow Jackets 37 yards on 11 carries, while Jirtavious Cox had two catches for 19 yards.
Wide receiver Chuck Tillery missed Friday''s game after suffering a fractured tibia. He had successful surgery Tuesday and will be out for four weeks.