September 8, 2018 7:54:16 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
MACON -- Kyziah Pruitt broke the post-game huddle and walked back toward the center of the field.
Unable to dress out for the third-straight game, the Noxubee County High School senior athlete had again been an observer on the sidelines. At times during the game, the standout wide receiver / defensive back offered critique of what he saw. Other times, he just watched and wondered what a healthy Pruitt would add to the Tigers' attack.
"I see a team that is great defensively and has all of the talent in the world," Pruitt said. "We just have to put the pieces together. When I come back, I think it will all jell together."
Until then, Noxubee County will have to find a way without the Mississippi State commitment. On Friday, Noxubee County showed flashes of its old self and but not enough consistency in a 26-23 loss to Meridian at Tiger Stadium.
The loss marked the third-straight season Meridian (2-2) has defeated Noxubee County (2-2). The latest result happened much like the previous two in that the Wildcats hit three big pass plays to account for nearly all of their offense.
Noxubee County failed to capitalize on 13 Meridian penalties and a running game that ground out 195 yards, some of which came with alarming ease when it appeared the Tigers were focused on scoring.
After the game, Pruitt, who played in the season opener against Starkville but has missed the last three games with an injury, was asked to explain why the Tigers' had such high highs and low lows. He smiled and said that was the first time he had been asked a question he couldn't answer.
"I don't know," Pruitt said. "We got to figure it out. We are going to figure it out. We have a great coaching staff and a great team and lot of seniors. We are going to come together."
Coach Tyrone Shorter's team threw two interceptions (one on the final play), lost two fumbles, and committed its share of untimely penalties that kept drives alive for the Wildcats.
All of it meant for an inconsistent mix that left Shorter hoping for a return to health for Pruitt and the rest of his Tigers.
"We have to get healthy," Shorter said. "I think if we get Kyziah back and get better quarterback play, I think that is our problem right now. I think we can be more explosive with Khris (White at quarterback), but I think I'm going to have to make that switch and make Maliek (Stallings) our full-time quarterback. I don't know yet, but we have to fix it."
White was 8-for-14 for 77 yards and an interception. Stallings was 3-for-8 for 29 yards and an interception. Both showed signs they are capable of making the offense go, but those indications were far from conclusive. As a result, the balance between running and passing the football Shorter wanted to establish was missing.
Still, Noxubee County had its opportunities. The Tigers twice answered scoring drives by the Wildcats on the ensuing possession. The second time came on a 5-yard run by Ja'Qualyn Smith (20 carries, 106 yards) and a pass from Stallings to Kaiyus Lewis that cut the deficit to 20-17. Noxubee County held Meridian on three downs and forced a punt on the next drive. But a Noxubee County player touched the punt and appeared not to down the football, which forced what officials determined was an inadvertent whistle. On the re-punt, Smith couldn't catch a punt that pushed him back and then lost out in a scramble for the ball. Three plays later, Demarcus Looper's 6-yard run provided the winning margin.
Meridian's final drive epitomized the night for Noxubee County. On first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Tigers swarmed running back Sam Bester for a 1-yard loss. On second down, Looper appeared to run right through the middle untouched for a score.
All of it left Shorter praising his players for their effort and wishing two calls had gone for his team instead of against it. The first extended a drive that ended in a score. The second allowed the Wildcats to eat up valuable time in the final five minutes.
"We beat ourselves tonight," Shorter said. "I am not going to blame anybody else. We are still learning. The reason I like playing these teams because we know where we will be come division play. Not too many teams are going to be as good as these guys. Meridian has a lot of Division I players. They showed up and they made plays. I still think we have a lot of room to grow, but we have to get more consistent in our quarterback play."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.