November 17, 2013 1:24:50 AM
MACON -- Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter has witnessed some outstanding defensive performances during his tenure in Macon, but the pounding his defense issued to Ripley High on Friday night is easily at the top of the list.
Noxubee County (10-3) had 10 sacks and four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by Darrell Brandon in the fourth quarter, in a 28-14 win in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs.
The only problem? It wasn't a flawless game, as Noxubee had a pair of blown coverages that led to long Ripley scores. Ripley gained most of its yards were gained on its last two drives.
"This one is up there, for sure," Shorter said. "We liked the way we matched up. My defensive coaches came up with a great game plan, which was to put pressure on them. But 10 sacks? Wow."
Senior linebacker Edrion Rice had three sacks. Brandon added two to go with his interception return for a score. The junior also had a 5-yard touchdown run and 22 rushing yards. Ladarius Thompkins, Jeffery Simmons, Anthony Brown, and Eric Hunt each had a sack. Antraveon Jamison and Mahlon Robinson had two interceptions and one interception, respectively.
"It feels good," Rice said. "What a great experience."
Noxubee County will hit the road next Friday to face Lafayette County. It must win two more games to reach the Class 4A state title game.
Ripley coach Chad Cook saw enough Friday night to believe Noxubee will repeat as state champs.
"Anytime you can take your defensive end and rush against our 300 pound lineman, then man up against our receivers, that'll cause a lot of problems," Cook said. "Instead of sliding protection, you have to man up. It was kind of blood in the water, and coach Shorter and his guys did a good job. I knew we couldn't get behind and get in second and third and longs. That looks like a defending state champion."
Ripley struggled to run the ball, and outside of one carry, quarterbacks Dalton James and Christian Johnson had all of Ripley's carries. When Ripley opened the second half by throwing an interception, which Noxubee County turned into a 14-0 lead, it became one-dimensional.
Two of Noxubee County's four interceptions came on Ripley's first two possessions of the second half, which turned an 8-0 halftime edge into a 20-0 lead in the third quarter.
"They had pressure built up, so we knew we could play off of that," Brandon said. "We knew they had to throw the ball."
Shorter said Ripley's five-set combined with its no-huddle pace caused some alignment issues on the back end. But the other formations -- pistol, two-tight and traditional under-center looks -- didn't pose a problem.
"When were up 20-0, I began to ease just a little knowing we were getting in the backfield like we were," he said. "I knew they had to get out of their game plan a little and throw the ball every down, and our defense is made for that. We wanted that, and I didn't think they could beat us like that."
For a team that finished the season 11-2, Cook's Ripley squad will lament its sloppy play, which also included 11 penalties and five turnovers. But for Cook, the two playoff games his team played are considered a "bonus" for his senior class.
"That was the worst half, mentally, I've seen from my kids," Cook said. "I think the big stage got them. You're looking at a group of seniors that won two games as ninth-graders, four games in 10th grade, then we won eight and 11. Most kids wouldn't have stuck around, so the thing I'm most proud of is their character. They deserved to have these playoff games."
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