December 2, 2012 1:19:35 AM
JACKSON -- Dylan Bradley crouched on the 48-yard line and took a moment to reflect.
After taking a few pictures with fans, friends, and coaches, Bradley removed his pads and dropped them on the sideline.
With a medal around his neck, it didn't matter Bradley wasn't in complete uniform because he was off on another quest. It was just like the previous 48 minutes when he led the Noxubee County High School defense to another dominating effort in a 16-6 victory against Greene County in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state title game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
This time, Bradley didn't corral a quarterback or swallow a running back. His prey this time was the state championship trophy. After emerging from a scrum with the hardware, Bradley walked to the Noxubee County bench and thrust the Class 4A trophy into the air for all of the team's fans to see.
"It is a great feeling," Bradley said minutes later. "I am speechless. I just have to say thank you to my teammates. We all deserved it. It was a hard-fought game. A shout out to Greene County. They played us hard. I am glad God put it in our favor tonight."
Bradley led the Tigers with 12 tackles, two and a half sacks, and four tackles for loss. His effort spearheaded a performance that helped Noxubee County win its second state title (first in 2008) and become the school's first football team to go 16-0 in a season. Lafayette County (twice), Bassfield, and Hazlehurst also have 16-0 records to their credit.
The Tigers joined that group by holding the Wildcats (10-5) to 121 total yards and six first downs. Noxubee County had 15 first downs and rushed for 225 yards, including 176 by senior Darrell Robinson.
But the Tigers' defense delivered the play of the game in the third quarter. Trailing 8-0, Greene County quarterback Terrance Woods kept his team's first drive of the second half alive with a 5-yard run on fourth-and-4. The Wildcats capitalized on a pass interference penalty and used a 4-yard run by Lamarcus Franks to secure a first-and-goal at the Tigers' 2-yard line. Noxubee County held Greene County to -2 yards on the next three plays to set up fourth-and-goal. The Wildcats called two timeouts to decide on a 4-yard speed sweep by Franks that worked and gave them a chance to tie the game. Noxubee County regrouped in time to stuff Woods at the 1-yard line to preserve the lead.
"We said, 'No more,' " Bradley said. "If they don't score, we win. It was 8-6. The final score didn't matter because we still won. When they scored, I came to the sidelines and I was mad. But we had to make up our mind and go out there and play even harder."
From that point, Noxubee County's defense took over. Deprived of the shutout it craved, the Tigers surrendered a 13-yard gain on a slip screen, a 10-yard run, and were whistled for a pass interference penalty that wiped out an interception return for a touchdown by Antravion Jamison. Everything else was lights out demon defense.
"This defense has been doing that all year," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "We have played in this type of game. We have been battle tested. We were ready for this game. I can go through the games -- the West Point game, the Lafayette County game, the Itawamba game. I knew they were going to keep their composure, and they did. They made some plays and stops when they had to."
Javoris Glenn added 11 tackles and three tackles for loss, while Jeremy Hunt had nine tackles and Javancy Jones and Antonio Ryland each had eight. Hunt, Jones, DeShawn Hopkins, and Edrion Rice all had half a sack.
Noxubee County defensive coordinator George Richardson said Monday his defense's goal was to find a way to negate Greene County's speed at quarterback with Woods and at running back with Franks. And while Greene County had success using its offensive tackle to hook down on the Tigers' defensive end, or their slot man blocking down on the defensive end, he said the Tigers made the adjustments. Richardson said the Tigers' linebacker wasn't filling the C gap because he had told him to stay still because the Tigers expected the quarterback to run the trap.
On the slip screens, he said the Wildcats typically came right back inside, so the linebackers had to fight a natural instinct to pursue the football and keep their position to avoid overrunning the play.
Even though the Tigers didn't get the shutout, Richardson was extremely impressed with the effort of his defense.
"It was a great will," Richardson said. "Those guys knew the defense was going to have the offense's back. After we gave up those big plays, they really took it personally. When we came to the sidelines, they were really mad at themselves because they felt like they let the offense down. They had to come out with something way down deep to make a stand there on that two-point conversion."
"It is a blessing," Shorter said. "Hats off to the coaching staff and these kids. The moment we lost to Amory last year (in the second round of the Class 4A North State playoffs), I knew this team was going to be special because the very next week the senior class started working out. I wanted to give them a couple of weeks off. When we started spring practice, this team told me we were going to go undefeated and win a state championship. I had to come in and open the fieldhouse on Saturdays sometimes. That is how much these seniors worked together. Hats off to these guys.
"I have been coaching these guys ever since they were in the seventh grade. I have been telling everybody that this group was going to win a state championship when they were seniors, and they did. They stuck together and worked extremely hard together."
The championship forced Shorter, who was the defensive coordinator for coach M.C. Miller in 2008, to answer a question that everyone in Noxubee County has been dying to know: Which team is better, the 2008 team that went 14-0 or the 2012 squad?
"There is no doubt that the 2012 team is the best," Shorter said. "I can't take anything from the 2008 team. I was a part of that team. I was the defensive coordinator on that team, and we had a great football team. But of course I am going to say 2012 because I am the head coach. Both teams were very good. It is an honor and a privilege and a blessing for me to be a part of both teams."
It also was a blessing for Bradley, who was just one of many Tigers who was emotional immediately following the game and in the postgame medal/trophy ceremony. Bradley, who has overcome shoulder and knee injuries the past two seasons, took a moment near midfield to dedicate the victory to two nephews who died. One passed away last year, while the other passed away in 2010.
"I went out there and played my ball," Bradley said. "I thanked God and told them this one was for them."
Fittingly, Bradley's motor never stopped going, just like the rest of his teammates. As a unit, Noxubee County banded together to beat Starkville, West Point, Louisville (twice), Lafayette County, and Itawamba Agricultural in some of its best defensive performances. On this night, Noxubee County's will to win was what carried it to its final destination.
"Will means putting everything on the line no matter how bad it hurts, no matter what you have left," Bradley said. "Even if you only have a little bit in your tank, you have to put it out there. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to win.
"You had to have a will out there tonight. When those guys scored, we had to come back and say, 'Defense, we can't give up another point.' If we would have given up another point we would have lost. I am glad we didn't.
"We had that mentality in our head to go get it, no matter what you got. We knew we had pain and injuries coming into the game, and we just had to play with it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.