November 18, 2013 7:07:13 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
MACON -- If it's playoff time, it must be time to eat for the Noxubee High School football team.
Eric Hunt and Darrell Brandon are going to make sure they're at the head of the buffet line to make sure everyone gets their fill.
Noxubee County digested its latest meal -- Ripley -- Friday in a 28-14 victory in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs. The 2012 Class 4A state titlists took another step closer to repeating as champions thanks to a defense that posted 10 sacks and had four interceptions. Brandon, a junior returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown and had two sacks, while Hunt, a senior, played both ways and had a sack and a touchdown run on fourth down.
For their accomplishments, Brandon and Hunt are The Dispatch's co-Prep Players of the Week.
Hunt, a three-year starter, played an integral role on last season's state championship team. As much as he takes pride in that title, he said his hunger has been difficult to satisfy this season because he wants to win another ring in his final season when the team really is part his. Hunt's leadership has helped him take ownership of a squad that had its share of ups and downs replacing 23 seniors and adjusting to inexperienced players in key positions.
"The kid is our leader," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "He can do some of everything. We can play him all over the field, and it shows on the field. He gets tackles for loss, he gets interceptions, he gets sacks, so we move him around a lot."
Shorter also said Hunt has provided a "lead-by-example" work ethic that has inspired his teammates and helped them keep their focus. He knew at the beginning of the season he wanted to use Hunt in the backfield to give the Tigers (10-3) an added dimension, but he realized it would be better to wait until the weather got cooler for him to give Hunt a bigger two-way role. He credits his offensive coaches for picking the right plays and packages to use Hunt.
Now that it is November, Hunt is itching to be in the game as much as possible. Shorter said sometimes the coaches have to push Hunt back and re-assure him the Tigers are OK because he is so eager to get into the game when the offense is on the field.
"At the beginning of the season, it was like pressure (playing both ways) and I didn't know I was going to be able to do it," Hunt said. "As the season went on, it started to get easier. It has been easy lately."
Hunt smiled when asked how much of a pest he can be when he wants to get into the game on defense. He said he feels he is the best when is on the field and doing something. After all, as a senior he never knows when that night's game is going to be his last, so he wants to be out there so he can have a hand in deciding his fate.
"He is putting the team on his shoulders right now," Shorter said. "He is doing a great job leading this tea. All of the younger kids are feeding off him. He brings so much energy to the game on offense, defense, and on special teams."
As much as Hunt enjoys bringing energy on defense, he said he likes playing offense more, even though he feels he is better on defense. That was easy to tell Friday when Hunt convinced Shorter to give him the ball on fourth-and-4 from the Ripley 7-yard line. Shorter said he was ready to ask Hunt to kick a 24-yard field goal instead of going for it, but Hunt's honesty changed his mind.
"I told him it would be better if he put it my hands because I knew I was going to get the first down, if not the touchdown," Hunt said. "As I ran the ball during the game, I was getting 4 or 5 yards per carry. I just had that mentality in my head that nobody could bring me down."
Brandon is just as hungry as Hunt. If it's possible, he might be a little hungrier because he has two seasons left and he plans on doing everything he can to end his career with two more championship rings.
"We're going to help the seniors get their ring, and next year we expect the juniors to help us get a ring," Brandon said. "We just have to work together as a team and keep playing hard every down and not take any plays off."
Brandon has played safety, cornerback, defensive line and linebacker as well as running back. He said he always has been a versatile player who enjoys playing defense over offense because he likes to hit people and to stop teams from scoring.
That sentiment is shared by plenty of his teammates, which is why Noxubee County has been so stingy on defense. The Tigers continued that trend last week despite giving up two big plays for touchdowns.
"It was the best we played the whole season (on defense)," Brandon said. "We had a good game plan and we just executed."
The interception return for a score was the final piece that helped Noxubee County secure a date against a familiar foe: Lafayette. Noxubee County beat Lafayette 14-0 last season. Lafayette defeated Noxubee County 20-0 in 2010 in Macon.
"The kid can play," Shorter said. "He is still learning. Before it is over, there is a possibility he might move to MIKE linebacker. He is just that physical. He had a heck of a game (against Ripley). These kids just continue to step their game up."
Brandon expects a hard-fought, physical game Friday night, one he believes will help satisfy his hunger for another week.
"I think it will be more of a running game and all we have to do is stop the quarterback," Brandon said. "I think the offense has to step up and the defense has to hold and step up, too."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.