November 21, 2010 1:36:00 AM
SHANNON -- For a brief moment, Noxubee County''s third-round Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A playoff game Friday night against Shannon reminded head coach Tyrone Shorter of the previous week. Just like against Center Hill, Noxubee fumbled the opening kickoff.
However, unlike that tense matchup last week, junior receiver Terrence Barron recovered the ball, then set the tone of the game the next play with a 67-yard sprint down the sideline. Big plays and composure helped the Tigers roll to a 28-7 lashing of the homestanding Red Raiders.
The victory, however, did not come easy. The young Shannon defense pushed the Tigers offense back from a first and goal on the 2-yard line, forcing a field goal attempt that went wide left, and sent the home crowd, armed with crimson cowbells and attitude, into overdrive.
Shannon came prepared for the tough Noxubee defense and quickly moved the ball into Tiger territory. The Tiger defensive line swallowed up Shannon''s rushing leader, Bodarius Taylor, who averages more than 160 yards per game. Then senior defensive lineman Jacoby Harris smothered quarterback Legilbert Bogan back in Red Raider territory.
When Noxubee got the ball back and was held on third and inches at its own 36, the Red Raiders defense seemingly had scored another moral victory.
But Shorter made a gutsy call and told his quarterback to stay on the field and go for it, essentially telling his backfield -- which had problems hanging on to the ball only a week before -- that he had as much confidence in them as for his defense. The players responded with a quick run up the middle by junior tailback Ladarrell Hunt for a yard and a fresh set of downs.
A few plays later Hunt hit the same hole up the middle, slashed to the sideline and sprinted 35 yards to the Red Raider 11-yard line before the fastest of Shannon''s defensive backfield could stop him. On the next play sophomore quarterback Deangelo Ballard popped up and threw a quick hitch to Barron, who scampered past the Red Raider corner into the end zone.
The score was only 7-0, but the point was made. Shorter proved to his running backs that if they kept their focus under pressure and kept their composure, they could control the game.
Still, for the rest of the first half, the Shannon Red Raiders held their own against a Tiger onslaught, forcing badly timed, drive-ending miscues. A fumble by Ballard deep in Shannon territory and an interception near the goal line in the waning seconds of the first half ended what could have been scoring opportunities. The Tigers went into halftime with only a tentative 7-point lead.
However, Shorter said during the break he chose to focus on the positive lessons learned in the first half.
"At halftime, only thing I told them was to keep their composure," he said. "I didn''t fuss. I didn''t holler. I told them we were OK. Just to keep their composure. Hey, we just made some mistakes, let''s correct those mistakes and we won''t have any problems. That''s exactly what I told them at halftime."
In the second half, Shorter''s words appeared to resonate loudly with his team.
With the exception of one play where a defensive back became overeager for an interception and dived for a ball that would have been better played off the receiver, leading to Shannon''s only touchdown, one team obviously was moving on and the other team''s season was quickly ending on Shannon Field.
Tigers sophomore running back Darrell Robinson averages only 86 yards per game and had problems holding on to the ball against Center Hill. He picked the Tigers offense up and carried it the rest of the way.
After a punt return to start the fourth quarter landed the Tigers on the Red Raider 20-yard line, Robinson bashed through the line, cut across the field and rumbled in for the 20-yard score to silence the crowd and put the Tigers up 14-7 early in the quarter.
After a Noxubee interception killed a tying attempt by Shannon, Robinson broke off long runs of 25 and 29 yards, the last going untouched into the end zone as the Tiger offensive line rocked the Red Raiders back on their heels.
The Tiger defense also reasserted itself, piling up sacks and forcing a fumble by the Red Raider quarterback on his own 15. Shorter left his offense on the field for four plays that gained minimal yardage, willing to turn the ball back over without embarrassing the Red Raiders, but on their next series, another forced fumble put the ball back in Noxubee''s hands and sent most of the crowd to their vehicles.
Robinson again fought his way into the end zone, leaping over a defender across the goal line for a 5-yard score. However, he lay on the ground for a few minutes, before being helped up and off the field. Noxubee added an easy 2 point conversion to round out the score at 28-7.
The defense continued to snow the Shannon quarterback under, and forced yet another fumble to finally finish off the Red Raiders for good.
After the game, the Tigers assembled on the field, barely celebrating that they were past the round that ended their season a year ago. Shorter was already pumping them up for the showdown next week at home against Lafayette.
He said his offense stepped up their game from last week''s showing, but his defense continues to move the team forward in the playoffs.
"Our gameplan was to come in and run the ball, we thought we could, and we did the second half," he said. "The defense, I can''t say enough about them. That''s what it''s all about. You get in the playoffs, you''ve got to play good defense. And right now we''re playing really good defense."
Robinson said after last week''s problems with fumbles, the coaches drilled them hard on hanging on to the ball in tough situations.
"This week, we''ve been running tired with the ball up high, to be in situations where the other team will try to take the ball away," he said. "I told coach to put it in my hands. I was ready to go. Put it in my hands and that''s what he did. He gave it to me and I took advantage of it. When I got a little cramp in my calf, it made that touchdown feel even better. I felt like I did something."
Ballard, who shoulders most of the offense while being only a 10th-grader, said having the weight of the team on him is exactly what drives him in his quest to get to the state championship.
"I feel like I got a big role to fill, because last year we got let down, this round, third round right here," he said. "And I''m trying to get to Jackson this year. [Having the pressure on him] makes me play better. I like the challenge. I want the challenge. I hope [Lafayette] comes with their best. I hope they have a safe trip, and are ready to play against the Tigers."
Shorter said the matchup for the 4A North championship is one the fans wanted.
"Lafayette, they''re coming to our place," he said. "We''ve talked about it and we''re glad to be there. Got to be ready to play. That''s what everybody wanted to see, No. 1 and 2, so here it is. You''ve got to play the best to get to Jackson, so here it is."