November 24, 2013 12:46:43 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
OXFORD - For Noxubee County High School, the margin for error was small throughout the 2013 football season.
With a roster full of sophomores and depth limited by injury, the Tigers showed the grit and mettle of a defending state champion to win seven straight games and a region championship after a 2-3 start.
However that margin for error finally caught up with Noxubee County in the third round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association North State Class 4A playoffs.
Noxubee County committed four turnovers and never found the end zone in a 9-0 loss to Lafayette County on a damp, windy night at Commodore Stadium.
With the win, Lafayette County (9-5) advances to the North State championship game where it will play Friday at Cleveland (9-5). For Noxubee County, the season ends at 9-4.
"We simply had too many mistakes," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "I am proud of this team and their growth throughout the season. It simply was not our night. The other team made more plays than we did."
Lafayette County kicked a first-quarter field goal after Noxubee County botched a snap on a fourth down punt attempt. The game was put out of reach by a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
While the season did not end the way they had wished, the Noxubee County football team can take pride in the travel.
"I think this team really left it on the field every Friday night," Noxubee County senior Eric Hunt said. "It was a situation where we always came out and played hard and tried to uphold the tradition of the program."
Noxubee County won the state championship in 2012. Sometimes, the Tigers made it look effortless as they won all 16 games they played.
A total of 23 seniors were lost off that team. Most coaches would just assume it was a rebuilding year. The same could not be said for Shorter and his staff who made the goal of returning to Jackson the team's top priority.
"We knew we had five difficult non-region games to get us ready for region play," Shorter said. "Those games were going to kill us or make us stronger. I thought they made us stronger.
"You could tell the team came back to work with a little more confidence each week."
On opening night, the Tigers started seven sophomores on offense and six on defense. The learning curve was steep.
The non-region scheduled included previous Class 5A state champion Starkville, Class 6A playoff participant Columbus, Class 3A favorite this seaon Louisville, Class 3A power Aberdeen and Class 5A power West Point.
Shorter admitted an 0-5 start to the season was a possibility. Instead, Noxubee County made enough plays to beat both Columbus and Aberdeen.
Through the early success came a little more confidence.
"The young guys really bought into what we were trying to do," Hunt said. "Anytime you win some games, it makes it a little easier."
Noxubee County then blitzed through Class 4A, Region 4 play by winning all five games it played.
Region play began with comeback victories against both Kosciusko and Leake Central.
The win streak eventually reached seven games as postseason play began and Noxubee County posted run-away victories over Gentry and Ripley.
The good times came to an abrupt halt Friday night.
On the game's first possession, a bad snap on fourth down foiled a Noxubee County punt attempt.
The Commodores were held out of the end zone but got a 27-yard field goal from Hollan Ryan.
On a wet track, the early score would be huge.
Noxubee County finally had some sustained offense in the second quarter. However, two different drives moved into Lafayette territory before ending on downs.
In the third quarter, Noxubee was again held in the red zone. A fake field goal attempt resulted in a sack of the potential ball carrier.
The Tigers drove into Lafayette territory six times on the night but failed to have anything to show for it.
"We simply made too many mistakes," Shorter said. "You can't win games on this level making the mistakes that we did."
Lafayette dealt the back-breaking blow midway through the fourth quarter.
The Commodores controlled time of possession most of the night and finally saw it pay off with a touchdown.
Devin Thomas hit Hunter Stewart on a 17-yard touchdown on fourth down.
On this night, Lafayette only completed three passes. However on this night, that would be enough.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter