November 23, 2012 9:08:52 AM
MACON -- DeAngelo Ballard knows he has changed.
Two years ago, Ballard would have surveyed the coverage, not found a receiver, and tried to force a pass to a receiver.
Last year, Ballard learned lessons as a junior, but he admitted earlier this week he still attempted to make plays with his arm or with his legs in tight situations.
Ballard can look back at that young quarterback and smile. He can reflect with ease because his poise behind center has been a key ingredient in the Noxubee County High School football team's run to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State title game.
Ballard will try to lead Noxubee County (14-0) on the next step at 7 tonight when it plays host to Louisville (10-4) for a chance to advance to the state title game next week in Jackson.
Ballard showcased poise and discipline last week in a 16-3 victory against Itawamba Agricultural. He connected with Charles Hughes on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to help give the Tigers an 8-3 lead. But Ballard didn't lose focus after initial success in the passing game. Instead of forcing balls into coverage or trying to extend bootlegs or forced runs, Ballard held the football and went out of bounds when the defense converged and managed the game. His poise allowed the Tigers to control field position and rely on their defense to keep the Indians deep in their territory for most of the game.
"If I throw the ball down field, we can lose a down and get no yards or it can be intercepted," Ballard said. "If I can run the ball and gain 2 or 3 yards or get down, a positive gain is better than nothing.
"I knew I always had the speed, but I just used to try to use my arm to force throws or make bad passes. I just learned a positive gain is better than nothing and to know the down and distance and to live to play another down."
Ballard realizes Louisville likely will focus on stopping running back Darrell Robinson tonight. Robinson, a senior, rushed for 326 yards and had six touchdowns in the Tigers' 41-28 victory against the Wildcats on Oct. 18 in Louisville. He isn't going to put any more pressure on himself to deliver in the passing game because he has the utmost confidence in his offensive line and receivers Hughes, Fernando Phillips, and Jessie Bryant.
Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter also believes in Ballard. He said Ballard has matured in his three seasons as starting quarterback. Ballard was 6 of 11 for 102 yards passing. He also rushed 10 times for 13 yards. He took a knee three times, including twice on the final drive.
"He has grown up a lot," Shorter said. "I think in his first two years he would listen a lot to the critics and the people in the stands. But he is a lot more mature. He has blocked all of that stuff out.
"At one time, people around here were saying we're not going to win a state championship with him at quarterback. He isn't listening to that. Our crowd will get on him and us as coaches because they want us to line up and throw the football 50 times a football game. But we don't listen to the crowd.
"Ballard manages the game very well. He can throw the football, and we can catch the football, but we're doing things a little diffrently this year. Ballard realizes how good our defense is, and we're satisfied with a 6-0 game or a 7-0 game. He realizes, 'OK, if it is not there get what he can get and let's punt the ball."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.