October 24, 2010 12:09:00 AM
LOUISVILLE -- For all the talk centering around the Louisville High School football team and coach M.C. Miller entering Friday night''s showdown against Noxubee County High School, the game came down to a couple big plays.
The biggest came when Noxubee County''s Daquarrius Mallard stepped in front of a Tajh Ford pass and raced 84 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to give his team a two-score lead that the Tigers held on to for a 19-12 win and the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A, Region 4 championship.
"That was big," Noxubee County first-year coach Tyrone Shorter said. "They were running a lot of slants and he just read it."
A few plays earlier Mallard had moved from safety to cornerback, hoping to be able to make a big play.
"I read it perfectly and jumped it," he said. "I felt I could take it (all the way). I had one (interception) earlier this season and tried to wait on my blockers, but something told me not to wait, just go and show my speed, so I just went on."
Mallard found clear sailing once he got to the 50-yard line and he raced down the Louisville High sideline and went untouched for the score.
That interception and one on Louisville''s last possession when the Wildcats were driving in for the potential win, left Miller disappointed.
"He shouldn''t have thrown it," Miller said of the interception for a touchdown. "The last one hurt us, too. I would have been all right with it if it had been on fourth down and we had thrown the pick, but not on first down."
The Wildcats (6-4, 3-1 region) had used their three timeouts, but had forced Noxubee County to punt and took over at the Tigers'' 38 with less than two minutes to play.
On the first play after the punt, Corey Williams intercepted Ford''s pass in the middle of the field, which helped the Tigers take a knee and run out the clock.
"This game came down to big plays and we made the big plays on defense when we needed to," Shorter said.
Much of the storyline centering around the game was on Miller and his first game as head coach at Louisville High against Noxubee County, a school he had coached for 20 years and led to a MHSAA Class 4A State Championship in 2008.
Shorter said all of the hoopla really didn''t have an influence on the outcome.
"It wasn''t about coach Miller and me. It''s about both of these programs," he said.
The win pushed the Tigers to 9-1 and allowed them to clinch the region title with a 4-0 league mark. Noxubee County will close out the regular season at Caledonia on Friday night, while Louisville -- which is assured second place in the region and a first-round home game in the playoffs -- will play host to Amory.
"We had our chances," Miller said. "Our quarterback (freshman Wyatt Roberts) got hurt and that kind of hurt us. We just have to get ready to bounce back."
Noxubee County, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 4A according to the Clarion-Ledger, looked like it would roll to an easy win early in the game.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and marched 63 yards in seven plays. A 1-yard run by Corey Williams on fourth-and-goal helped them take a 7-0 lead with 8 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
Noxubee County''s next possession saw it put together a 19-play drive that ended with an interception in the end zone by C.J. Bates on second-and-goal from the 2.
From that point, the Wildcats seemed to get new life and cut the deficit to 7-6 at halftime on a 15-yard scoring toss from Ford to Bates.
"The game should have been over in the first half," Shorter said. "We just turned the ball over too much. I think if we had went on and put them away in the first half, it would have been an easier game. But they got the momentum back."
After a good punt return gave Noxubee County a short field late in the third quarter, Deangelo Ballard hit Terrence Barron with a 26-yard scoring strike. After taking two steps, the ball flew out of Barron''s hands, but the touchdown stood, giving the Tigers the 13-6 lead with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
Mallard''s big interception return for a touchdown with 1:32 left in the third quarter made it 19-6, but Louisville''s Davais Schaffer returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for the touchdown to cut it to 19-12.
Noxubee County rushed for 203 yards and had 255 yards of total offense, with Robinson picking up 164 yards on 18 carries, including 163 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
Louisville allowed just one first down in the last two quarters.