October 28, 2010 12:23:00 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
MACON -- The time appears to be right for the Noxubee County High School football team.
Plagued with injuries for much of the 2010 season, the Tigers are rounding into better health with each day just in time to kick off another playoff push.
Coach Tyrone Shorter''s team will take care of its final piece of regular-season business at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Caledonia for a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A, Region 4 game.
Last week, Noxubee County defeated Louisville 19-12 to wrap up the region title and secure a home date for the first round of the playoffs.
The victory proved to be even sweeter for the Tigers (9-1, 4-0 region) because they did it with a solid mix of offense, thanks to the running of Darrell Robinson (163 yards in the first half), and a stingy defense, sparked by an interception return for a touchdown by Daquarius Mallard, to beat former coach M.C. Miller.
Shorter, who served as an assistant coach to Miller at Noxubee County for more than 10 years, said the return of offensive linemen Tommy Lane, Javodkis Tate, and KeyShun Smith from injuries means his team is that much closer to hitting its stride for the push to get back to Jackson. Senior lineman Demarcus Barnett also was injured and missed a few games.
"We went through a rough period with six or seven guys out," Shorter said. "That was he reason our offense was having some problems, but the defense has helped out all year. Now we have the whole offensive line back and we went back to what we were doing at the beginning of the year: Running the football."
Shorter said the quarterback combination of Jared Johnson and Deangelo Ballard also has matured. He said Johnson, known more for his passing, has honed his running skills, while Ballard, known for his running prowess, has polished his passing skills to give the Tigers two players who can lead the team.
Noxubee County won the Class 4A state title in 2008, and wants to erase the sting of disappointment it suffered last season in a playoff loss to Itawamba Agricultural High School.
Smith, a senior lineman, said hard work in the summer and the preseason helped set the stage for a successful season. While the injuries set up several stumbling blocks along the way, Smith said everyone "stepped up" and realized it was their time to shine.
"I don''t think anyone worked out like we did over the summer," Smith said. "We were dedicated. We''re just pushing forward to go where we need to go."
Senior lineman Jacoby Harris has been surprised Noxubee County has maintained a high level despite all of the injuries. He said the team had a host of younger players who were presented with opportunities and it remained to be seen if they would make the most of their chances.
"Some of them weren''t mature enough, but they showed they were mature enough to fill in the spots, and they came out to play every game," Harris said. "I was (worried) at first, but they showed in practice they were going to be ready, and they came out and played like they practiced."
Mallard, a senior wide receiver/cornerback, provided the biggest spark last week when he intercepted a pass in the third quarter and went 84 yards to a score. That play was just one of several the Noxubee County defense made against Louisville to help charge the offense to get in gear.
Mallard hasn''t been surprised by how well the younger players have reacted. He said many of the underclassmen would be starters for other teams, and have blended in well with a defense that returned only three starters from last season.
From here, though, he said the Tigers will have to listen to the coaches and fix the little things so they can raise its level to championship status.
"Our defense has been great all season," Mallard said. "I have improved because I have listened to the coaches. At one point in time I thought I knew everything and I never wanted to listen to the coaches, but the coaches taught me better. I started to listen to the coaches and it has helped me out this season."
Mallard said the key for the Tigers is "to play every game like it is Jackson" (the site of the state title games). Even though the Tigers might not have the aerial artistry and might be a little smaller than championship contenders of the past, Mallard said Noxubee County is ready to take care of business.
Shorter hopes that will be the case on both sides of the ball
"The kids are flying to the ball and they are coming around," Shorter said. "They are still making mistakes, but they are mistakes we can live with because they are so aggressive and so fast. We are trying to slow them down a little bit, but we are happy with our defense.
"Going into the Louisville game, we had concerns about the timing because the offensive linemen hadn''t played together in several weeks. We hope we''re starting to jell at the right time, and this is the right time to start to jell. We feel good about our team, and the kids feel good about the team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.