September 8, 2013 2:55:04 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
MACON -- Wyatt Roberts needs no introduction in the state of Mississippi.
The 6-foot, 200-pound right-hander has been a fixture at quarterback for the Louisville High School football team for the past three seasons. In that time, he has earned a reputation as the gunslinger of a high-powered offense and has polished his skills to the point he has given a verbal commitment to play quarterback for Jacksonville State (Ala.) University, a Football Championship Subdivision School.
But even the highest scoring team needs more than just solid quarterback play to win a state championship. On Friday night, coach M.C. Miller's Wildcats showed they just might have a defense and a running game to go with their quarterback to create a title formula.
Roberts threw two touchdowns, including one to Demarcus Brooks, who ran for another one, and Louisville had seven sacks in an all-around dominating effort in a 28-6 victory against Noxubee County High.
"We give (the defense) some good situations (in practice), but a lot of that credit goes to them," Roberts said. "They have some great players and they wreak havoc on offenses and give us the ball in good positions. It makes it easy for us."
Louisville's seven-sack performance comes on the heels of an eight-sack effort last week in a 30-12 victory against Wilkinson County.
The Wildcats' defensive effort helped it overcome three series in which it failed to score on drives that started from the Noxubee County 24-yard line or better. Louisville missed a field goal on one of the trips. It also failed to score on a fourth-and-goal from the Noxubee County 1.
Those stumbles only delayed the outcome because senior middle linebacker Jeremy Sangster led a stifling defensive effort. Aside from Eric Hunt's 87-yard kickoff return that set up Darrell Brandon's 1-yard touchdown run, Louisville contained quarterback Timorrius Conner and a running game that featured multiple backs.
"Our defense is pretty good," Miller said. "We have some defensive linemen and some linebackers. Sangster leads the defense. He didn't make the (Clarion-Ledger's) Dandy Dozen, but he is the best linebacker in the state. ... We just have to keep playing hard and keep everybody healthy. We have good size and good quickness, and they play hard all of the time."
Sangster, a 6-1, 230-pounder, had two sacks and capped the scoring with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Louisville's dominance up front helped it limit Noxubee County to -53 yards rushing. Once the Wildcats found they could control the line of scrimmage, they sent waves of pressure that flushed Conner from the pocket and forced penetration. As a result, Conner had several passes tipped, including one for an interception by senior defensive end Anthony Gund, who also had a sack. Conner threw four interceptions.
"I thought we had a great game plan, but we can't beat a Pee Wee team if we are going to commit seven turnovers," said Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter, whose team had a snap go over the punter's head and another low snap that the punter had to fall on. "I thought we had our opportunities and just turned the ball over. I have to give them credit. They have a very good defense, but we knew this coming in. But we also didn't take advantage of some opportunities."
The loss dropped defending Class 4A champion Noxubee County to 1-2, which marks the first time since 2005 it is under .500 three games into the season.
The latest loss also had a historical significance. The 22-point loss to Louisville was Noxubee County's largest in the series since a 35-0 loss on Oct. 27, 2000. The six-point effort was the Tigers' lowest output in the series since 2000.
Noxubee County compounded its troubles by dropping several passes that would have helped the offense find a rhythm. Last week, Shorter opted to go to short passes early in the game against Columbus to give Conner confidence. On Friday, though, Louisville's pressure didn't give Conner much time to throw regardless of whether he started under center or in the shotgun.
"I am tired of people saying, 'Oh, we're going to be all right because we're young,' " Shorter said. "It is time to grow up. It is the third week in a row we have four or five turnovers. It has to stop. It hurt our opportunities."
At the same time, Shorter praised Louisville's defense.
"This defense was the best we have seen so far," Shorter said. "We knew they were going to come in and send a lot of pressure on our young quarterback, but we couldn't block them. I have to give them credit.
"But our team didn't quit. We battled, battled, and battled. To have these turnovers, though, our defense had its back against the wall several times and we came up with some big stops, but when you continue to play on their side of the field eventually bad things are going to happen."
The victory helped Louisville (3-0) avenge a pair of defeats to Noxubee County last season when both teams were in Class 4A. The two victories were part of the Tigers' 16-0 run to the program's second state title. The first came in 2008 when Miller was still head coach at Noxubee County. Shorter, who served as defensive coordinator under Miller, has the challenge this season of replacing 23 seniors from the 2012 title team.
On the other sideline, Miller has a team of similar experience with 27 seniors. A move down to Class 3A hasn't altered his or the players' focus on winning a state title. The fact they may have to go through opponents like Aberdeen instead of Noxubee County to get to Jackson doesn't matter.
"I still think Noxubee County is still going to make it," Miller said. "I don't think anybody in Class 4A can handle them. We hope we can handle everybody in Class 3A. There are still some tough teams down there. We are just going to have to keep working and keep our heads on straight and not let them get too cocky."
Roberts agreed and said the Wildcats will benefit from having a stable of wide receivers and running backs they can go to keep defenses guessing. He also knows a stout defense could pave an easier path to a state championship game.
"We have some weapons," Roberts said. "We have some good games ahead and some tough teams, but we have to stay together and we have a lot to improve on offensively. You can't go down there that close and not score. That will get you beat. We have a lot to work on, but we're going in the right direction.
"We have a lot of pressure on us. We have a big X on our back, and everybody is going to give us their best shot every week. We have to come out and prove every week we are one of the best. It's a challenge, and we're looking forward to it."
Follw Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.