August 29, 2009 11:49:00 PM
MACON -- Noxubee County High School football coach M.C. Miller still has some offensive weapons to put on the field while quarterback/wide receiver/free safety Vincent Sanders recovers from a fractured jaw.
Running backs Patreon Hopkins and Jontae Skinner each scored a touchdown Friday night to help the defending Class 4A state champions beat Columbus 23-12.
The Tigers (2-0) prefer the passing game, but Miller has no problem going to the running game while sophomore quarterback Jared Johnson gets used to the system.
"We had to go to our running game, which is something we''ve not done before," Miller said. "We''ve got to get used to the quarterback we''ve got now. He''s not where we want him yet, but he''s working to get there.
"We knew we had some good running backs who could run and we wanted to drive it down their throat at the end (of the game) because we wanted to control it then. We knew we could still throw it, but we didn''t need to throw it and have a chance to put them back in the game. (The running backs) came through and played their hearts out."
The Falcons (1-1) took a 6-2 lead at halftime after Randy Brown scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Noxubee County responded with 21 unanswered points. A 21-yard touchdown run by Hopkins and a 26-yard scoring run by Skinner in the third quarter parked the Tigers.
Hopkins (14 carries, 86 yards) challenged his teammates at halftime and told them how important it was for everyone to do their job.
"If we always keep our heads up, nobody in the state can play with us," Hopkins said. "As long as we''re clicking and everyone is doing their assignments, we''ll still be OK."
Columbus coach Bubba Davis knew the Tigers weren''t going to give up without Sanders.
"They expect to win because they are pretty good and have a lot of athletes," Davis said. "It''s not over down here just because they lose one player.
"We knew we were going to have to stop (Hopkins and Skinner). We knew that''s who they were going to go to. That''s their next best two players."
Skinner was questionable before the game because of a toe injury. He didn''t dress out for pregame warmups but decided that without Sanders he had to see if he could contribute.
"I knew we had to have somebody to step up," said Skinner, who rushed for 49 yards on four carries. "I couldn''t let my team down like that. My toe hurts, but I''ll be ready to go next week."
After Johnson threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Barron in the fourth quarter, the Falcons closed the final gap with a 1-yard run by Brown with one minute left in the game.
Columbus linebacker Chris Jackson said his team was confident going into the game, but said the Falcons just didn''t give the knockout blow.
"That''s a good football team," Jackson said. "They had the heart and played until the end. That''s what we''ve got to start doing. We''re going to come back to football practice on Sunday."
Like Noxubee County, the Falcons have a sophomore signal caller in Cedric Jackson (4-for-11, 45 yards), who threw a couple of interceptions in the game.
One of those went to Hopkins in the third quarter.
"We had to step up in the passing situations," Hopkins said. "We knew Columbus was going to come in and run the ball, but we didn''t expect them to pass as much. I knew I needed to make a play. I was in the right place at the right time."
Four turnovers hurt Columbus, and Davis believes youth played a part in that. Still, he was pleased with his team''s effort.
"We played better this week than we did last week," Davis said. "I think we improved. We''re making progress, and I think our young players are having to grow up pretty quick having to play some pretty good people."
The Falcons, who had a big game out of running back Damian Baker (19 carries, 136 yards), go on the road again Friday to play West Point, while the Tigers travel for the first time to meet Murrah.
1. Tennessee routs No. 3 Mississippi State COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Season opener at Columbus Speedway a success LOCAL SPORTS
3. Tennessee's win against MSU flips script LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Starkville Academy boys fall in state title game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS