October 12, 2012 11:16:20 AM
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter heard the talk in his locker room this week.
As soon as he discovered some of his players were looking ahead to a game against Louisville, the Noxubee County High School football coach squelched that discussion.
"I told them we're not focusing on Louisville right now because our next opponent is Houston," Shorter said. "I can understand (how they would do that) because a lot of them have relatives in Louisville and it is so close and they know a lot of people there. But I just want them to stay focused and let's take care of the teams we have coming up and not overlook anybody."
For the record, Noxubee County, the No. 2 team in the state of Mississippi in The Clarion-Ledger's Super 10 poll, will play host to Houston at 7 tonight in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A, Region 4 game. Not only will the Tigers have to deal with the distraction of Homecoming, they also will have to push back the anticipation many in Noxubee County have for the game Thursday at Louisville. Shorter knows that kind of focus is essential, especially after what happened to his team last season. A year ago, many in the state, the Tigers included, couldn't help look ahead to what they thought would be a title preview between Noxubee County and Lafayette. Amory ruined those dreams by beating Noxubee County 21-20 in Amory.
Noxubee County has lived with the sting of that loss for the last year and has used it as motivation. Last week, Noxubee County had a string of four consecutive shutouts snapped in a 45-3 victory at Leake Central. Despite the gaudy record, a powerful running game led by an experienced offensive line and senior running back Darrell Robinson, and an dominating defense, Shorter knows it can't hurt to remind a team it has to stay focused because it can lose at any time if it isn't fully invested physically and mentally.
"We are just trying to talk to these kids and stay humble," Shorter said. "It is an honor to be ranked No. 2 in the state, but we are trying to let them know not to get on the Internet and talk back and forth. We want them to have some pride and let everything take care of itself."
Noxubee County also is the top-ranked team in Class 4A. Shorter has followed the rankings all season, so he knows there are plenty of quality opponents -- Itawamba, Amory, Lafayette, Quitman, Louisville -- on the horizon for his team. Right now, though, his main priority is beating Houston and taking another step to securing the top seed and home field for as long as possible in the North State playoffs. Last year, Louisville edged Noxubee County 14-12 in the C-Spire Wireless Bright Lights Football Game in Macon to take the region's top seed.
Shorter was pleased last week to see his team start quickly against Leake Central considering it started slowly the previous week against Kosciusko. In that game, Noxubee County led only 8-0 at halftime and had to pour it on in the final 24 minute to earn the 28-0 victory.
Shorter said the Kosciusko game and a 6-0 victory against West Point were his team's two biggest challenges of the season, not because of the caliber of the opponent, but because of the toughness of the game and the adversity his team had to overcome. He said the games following those victories -- and -- have been the best two responses his team has had, which encourages him to believe his team will be ready for bigger challenges to come in the postseason.
"These guys are working hard, playing together, and not making mistakes," Shorter said. "That is what it is going to take to carry on going into the playoffs. Like I told the guys last week, a win automatically puts you into the playoffs. Now we have to finish. These next ballgames are going to be challenging ballgames, and I like this because you don't want any pushovers going into the playoffs."
Noxubee County will close the regular season against what he called a "much-improved Caledonia team." That game will will set the stage for a playoff run that finally could help him answer a question that has been on the mind of nearly everyone in Macon: Is the 2012 team better than the 2008 Noxubee County High team that won a Class 4A state title? The 2008 team posted eight shutouts en route to the football program's first state championship.
"I keep telling people the same answer: Unless this team can win a state championship, the 2008 team is the best," Shorter said. ;They want an answer The kids are very similar, especially defensively. The 2008 defense won a championship. This group is really good. I think the linemen in this group are better in this group than that group, but they got the job done and won a state championship. Until this team can do what that group did and go undefeated, I will have to say the 2008 team is better."
The caveat is this year's team can go 16-0 and win a state championship, which means it could bolster its case for being the better team by having more victories.
That is a discussion that will have to wait until December, provided the Tigers can keep their focus and take care of business.
"They are hungry for it," Shorter said. "It is so easy to coach this bunch because they are so hungry and so focused on what our goals are. I can't predict the rest of the season, but I know these kids are going to come out every Friday night and they are going to play hard."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.