November 10, 2010 9:11:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
MACON -- The numbers don''t lie.
Whether it has been through the air or on the ground, the Noxubee County High School football team has had one of the best offenses in the state the past four years.
From a state runner-up finish in 2007 to a state title run in 2008 to a third-round playoff appearance last season, the Tigers have burned defenses and plenty of light bulbs on scoreboards along the way.
Noxubee County has put up those eye-popping numbers while its defense has kept the bulbs on the other side of the ledger silent on many nights.
The Tigers'' defense this year might not be as big as the unit that played a key role in the championship victory against D''Iberville, but it is doing all it can to make sure it brings another trophy -- and a life-sized team picture -- to the school.
Noxubee County (11-1) will try to deliver another defensive gem at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Center Hill (10-2) in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs.
"For us to win a championship, we''re going to have to play good defense," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "We have to be able to stop the run. This Friday, we''re going against two running backs who are right at 1,000 yards, so we''ll have a big test to stop the run."
Shorter has preached to his team that it has a chance to win a title if it can stop the run and run the ball. The return of several injured offensive lineman has given a boost to the Tigers'' offense. On the other side, Shorter said senior Jacoby Harris, junior Ralph Franklin, and sophomore Dylan Bradley have teamed with junior Jacoby Jones and sophomore Javancy Jones to control the line of scrimmage in the defense''s 5-3 scheme. A pack of Tigers often takes care of the next step, as players fly to the football just like some of the team''s best defenses in recent years.
"We''re really trying to beat their record," said Harris, referring to the past two defenses. "It is still similar because we have the same speed on the defensive line."
Harris said the Tigers typically are outweighed up front, but he said the players capitalize on their speed with plenty of stunts and discipline. He said the mix allows the Tigers to force double teams that enable them to clog things up and funnel would-be running backs to their teammates.
"Other teams probably look at us and be like, ''Aww, they ain''t nothing,'' " Harris said. "But once they get in front of us they see what we''re about."
Shorter said the Tigers have been blessed to have four to six guys on each side of the ball to limit players going both ways. The youth of the defense, which starts only three seniors, also bodes well for the future.
"They want to live up to the defense we have had in the past, so it is easy to motivate them," Shorter said. "They aren''t quite there, but they have a chance to get there."
As much as it is a cliche, Shorter reminds his team "defense wins championships." To punctuate the point, Shorter talks about the 2008 season a lot, and often pops in a tape of the ''08 title game to show his players the difference the defense made on that night.
Bradley, who plays on the other side of Harris, said teamwork and hustle have been two reasons for the group''s success. He agrees the defense is similar but "much quicker." He also said the line has more power than the 2008 team.
"Once they see our quickness and we are not our short stopping our strength, either," Bradley said. "They know when they come to play us we are bringing it all and we are going to leave everything on the field."
The Tigers have extra motivation for Friday''s game. Shorter said Tuesday that Noxubee County hasn''t lost a playoff game in the time members of this coaching staff have been at the school. Shorter was a longtime assistant coach to former head coach M.C. Miller, who is now the head coach at Louisville High, before taking over the program before this season.
Shorter, who works mostly with the defense, said that group isn''t as big as the 2008 group that helped the school win its first state title. That team allowed 92 points and pitched seven shutouts en route to a 14-0 finish.
Last season, the Tigers laid claim on being even more dominant, allowing only 78 points and blanking 10 opponents, including six in a row (five in Region 4A).
The only negative about that was Noxubee County picked the wrong time to allow its most points in a game. Itawamba Agricultural High avenged a 28-14 loss in 2008 with a 29-14 victory in the third round.
Center Hill defeated Itawamba AHS last week thanks in part to a running attack that averages more than 266 yards per game. Junior Richard Hampton has rushed for 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns, while senior fullback Justin Givens has rushed for 882 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Those type of numbers are to be expected from most opponents at this time of the year, as are the low numbers Noxubee County''s defense expects to put on the other team.
"We have a good defense, but the only way we''re going to win a state championship is if our defense stay together and plays as one," junior lineman Dantrell Franklin said. "We have stayed together really good."
The proof is in the numbers.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.