December 2, 2012 1:20:45 AM
JACKSON -- Darrell Robinson has been the workhorse for the Noxubee County High School football team all season.
It took four plays Saturday night for Noxubee County to wonder if its do-everything senior running back would be able to perform at his show-stopping level.
As it worked out, the Tigers needed only three running plays -- all of them without Robinson -- to find out the answer.
Spurred into service after Robinson suffered a deep thigh bruise, Javancy Jones and Fernando Phillips picked up the slack in the middle of a drive and provided the first and only score Noxubee County needed in a 16-6 victory against Greene County in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state title game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
"The only thing that was going through my head is that me and Fernando had to step up," Jones said. "Everybody knew we run our whole offense around DJ (Robinson), and when he went out the crowd was like, 'Ohhhh.' We knew then we had some big shoes to fill, and we tried our best to fill them. I don't know if I filled them or not, but I filled them halfway. Fernando filled half and I filled half. After (Robinson) came back in, he did what he had to do."
The victory 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. At the state level, Noxubee County joined Lafayette County (twice), Bassfield, and Hazlehurst as the only programs to go 16-0 in a season.
"We have other guys on the team, and when Robinson went down we had other guys step up," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "Fernando Phillips stepped up big time tonight. (Senior running back) Jarvis Taylor was hurt tonight and wasn't able to go, and we just told the guys we're going to do this together, and we're going to keep doing this together. Javancy Jones stepped up big for us tonight. He played a lot of snaps tonight offense and defense. We asked that kid to do a lot of things tonight and he took up the slack on offense for us."
Jones, a senior defensive lineman/linebacker, had an 8-yard run on the first play after Robinson was forced to the sideline on the game's first series. As trainer Brandon Johnson examined Robinson behind the team, Phillips kept the Tigers going with a 5-yard run. Greene County was called for a 15-yard personal foul that gave Noxubee County a first-and-10 at the 12-yard line. Phillips did the rest, bursting off the left side to make it 6-0 with 8 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first quarter. Phillips added the two-point conversion run that proved valuable later in the game.
"It was exciting," Phillips said. "I just had to make a play."
Phillips (seven carries, 30 yards) said he gets a good number of snaps in practice and he knows the plays, so he felt comfortable replacing Robinson. He showed his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, which he called "pretty good", on the scoring run.
"It felt great, but I knew it would come," Phillips said. "If we execute, nobody can stop us, and we went out and executed."
Noxubee County executed on that play but not much else in the first half. Even with Robinson back in the game later in the half, albeit slowed by the deep thigh bruise, the Tigers couldn't capitalize on a 165-22 edge in total yards in the first 24 minutes. Noxubee County failed to convert on at least one pass play that could have went for a touchdown. It also failed to connect on another pass play that could have kept a drive alive and was stuffed on fourth-and-3 from the Greene County 7-yard line late in the second quarter.
"Mistakes happen," Noxubee County quarterback DeAngelo Ballard said. "Balls went off guys fingertips, a couple of times I missed them. We couldn't get mad at each other. We just had to come and play the next play. When that play is over with, you can't bring it back. You just have to try to play harder the next play."
Noxubee County moved the football in the second half but never hit the big play. When it did, a penalty wiped out a long run by Robinson. It also missed another pass play that would have went for another score.
"Penalties hurt us tonight. We had a lot of penalties tonight," Shorter said. "But we just stuck with our game plan. My coaches do a very good job. Hats off to these guys. I am nothing without those coaches. They did a very good job putting the game plan together."
Noxubee County was able to stay on the ground because Robinson fought through the pain. Senior Dylan Bradley said Robinson first suffered the deep thigh bruise in his team's first game against Louisville in the regular season. Robinson shook off that pain to rush for more than 2,600 yards and set a state record for touchdowns (49) in a season.
At halftime, Bradley knew his teammate was hurting.
"He didn't want to give up and keep running the ball no matter what," Bradley said. "That gave me an extra kick in my backside. If he can do that, let me go and do this. I told my guys before this game and during the season, if you can't go by what I am showing you, I will do it the right way and you can follow me. Those guys saw what I was doing and came behind me and had my back 100 percent."
Robinson still rushed for 176 yards on 37 carries. Despite the gaudy totals, he didn't appear to have his breakaway speed or his strength to break through tackles. After the game, Robinson said he found it difficult to plant on his right foot but he found a way to persevere. He said he didn't have to convince Shorter to keep him in the game even though he admitted telling his coach in the first quarter that his leg hurt.
Robinson's leg didn't appear to bother him late in the fourth quarter when he helped Noxubee County put the game away. With 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game, Robinson ripped off a 33-yard gain. He added runs of 15 and 3 yards before capping the six-play drive with a 2-yard run, his 50th touchdown of the season. Robinson high-stepped home for the two-point conversion run to account for the final margin with 3:55 to go.
"They were going to have to break my leg before I came out," Robinson said. "I wasn't coming out no matter what."
Robinson admitted the thigh bruise affected him because he felt he should have scored at least three touchdowns. He said he didn't have the typical explosion, but that he had faith in his teammates.
"They had my back," Robinson said. "I knew we were still going to score. I know them boys, all of them can make plays, and I knew somebody was going to make a play, and Fernando did."
Although Robinson had the lion's share of the yards, Shorter felt Robinson would have had an even bigger night if he hadn't suffered the deep thigh bruise. He believed Robinson would have scored five touchdowns and helped send the Tigers to their second state title in a blaze of glory.
As it was, Robinson moved a little slower, but, true to his nature, he never stopped moving forward.
"I asked him, 'Can he go?' and he said, 'Yes,' " Shorter said. "He was limping a lot. He had a deep thigh bruise, and I kind of questioned it, but I asked the trainer, Brandon, who does a very good job for us, and he told me if he feels like going, let him go. He came out and I can't say enough about that kid. I love him, and he has been running hard for us all year.
"I was about to pull him and Robinson was like, 'I can go. Le me go.' It was his decision, and he came out and pulled this game out for us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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