August 31, 2014 1:04:17 AM
The body language said it all.
From the opening snap Friday night against Columbus, the Noxubee County High School defense looked like a group ready to pounce. Whether it was stacking eight or nine players in the box, the Tigers couldn't wait to strike. While that aggressiveness worked against Noxubee County in the form of numerous false start penalties, the defense once again resembled a unit coach Tyrone Shorter has come to love.
"We responded," Shorter said following a 46-7 victory. "I think the kids responded to the challenge we gave them, especially defensively."
Noxubee County's defense scored three touchdowns off fumbles, including two returned for scores by Kevarkian Brewer. In all, Noxubee County (1-1) capitalized on six turnovers (five fumbles, one interception) to erase the taste of a 51-19 season-opening loss to Starkville last week.
"Our defense came and played," Noxubee County junior defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "We came out last week and played sluggish, the defensive line especially. We didn't play up to our possibilities. (Against Columbus), we came out harder. This week, we helped out the offense a lot more than last week."
Shorter said a key was going back to a more physical approach in practice. He said the Tigers had their first units go against their second units in the week of practice before the Starkville game. After being "embarrassed" by the number of missed tackles and the overall performance of his defense, Shorter opted for old-school, physical practices Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to help get his team back to the right mind-set. The results showed, as the Tigers itched to uncoil at the snap of the ball and make hits.
"We kind of slacked up because we didn't want to get anybody hurt," Shorter said of his team's practice strategy in week one. "But we had to go back to that type of practice, and it showed tonight. The guys were more aggressive. They flew to the ball and tackled much better.
"Our three practices last week, we got after each other, and it showed tonight."
Shorter also decided to move Simmons, the multi-talented defensive end, who is the brother of former Noxubee County defensive lineman Dylan Bradley. Last week, Simmons spent most of his time at defensive end and the Yellow Jackets ran away from him and didn't give him an opportunity to be a factor. Against Columbus, Noxubee County moved Simmons to nose and to tackle to help him clog the middle. The move worked, especially in the second half, when the Tigers allowed only 26 yards.
"It doesn't matter where I play," Simmons said. "I just want to help my team to be the team I know we can be."
With a brother who had the nickname "Beast," Simmons knows how much pride past Noxubee County teams have in the program's athletic, swarming defenses that hit hard and enjoy piling up shutouts. Last week, Starkville ran through and past Noxubee County's defense like it was a group pretending to live up to the accomplishments of past wrecking crews. Simmons said he and his teammates had to change that. He credited the coaches for changing the team's focus with the hard-nosed practices.
"We missed so many tackles last week," Simmons said. "This week, I can say my defense we came to practice ready and ready to hit. Tonight, we proved that as the linebackers made good plays, the defensive line made good plays. They tried to spread us out, but we stayed in the box and we did our jobs.
"(The approach in practice) helped us out because the week we were getting ready to play Starkville we were going against the second team. This week, it was ones on ones. That made it tough on offense and defense. We have a tough offense and a tough defense. Going against each other, we are both going to get physical and mentally tough."
Gashed by running back Kylin Hill for a 77-yard touchdown run on Columbus' second play, Simmons said Noxubee County's defense was lined up wrong and that it wasn't going to allow any more points. The Tigers lived up to that promise thanks to a lot of help from the Falcons. After a turnover gave the Falcons the ball at midfield, Hill fumbled on the first play. Anthony Brewer scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a score. Seven plays later, Columbus quarterback Jay Jay Swanigan couldn't handle a high snap. Kevarkian Brewer recovered and raced home for the first of two fumble returns for touchdowns that gave Noxubee County a 12-7 lead with 5 minutes, 45 seconds to go in the first quarter.
"I thought we got kind of soft defensively last week, but these kids bounced back tonight," said Shorter, who intends to stick with ones vs. ones in practice. "I am proud of them. We have to get even better next week because next week's game (against Louisville and former Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller) could go either way. There is going to be a lot riding on it."
Junior quarterback Timorrius Conner was 14 of 22 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Shannessy Sherrod added touchdown runs of 5 and 4 yards.
"We are going to learn from this one, too, but we are going to put up some points," Conner said.
When asked how many points, Conner said, "More than this."
The loss was disappointing for Columbus coach Randal Montgomery, who was making his debut at the school after a successful run at Hazlehurst High that saw him lead the program to a state title and three appearances in the championship game.
"I am kind of speechless right now," Montgomery said. "I thought we would have played a little better than that, but we have to do a better job as coaches. We just didn't do a good job of getting our team prepared to play, and I take full responsibility for that. You're not going to beat anybody when you have six turnovers.
"Noxubee is a great team. They're going to win a lot more ballgames, but that just wasn't our best effort."
Montgomery saw some positives from his team, especially in the first half when it rushed for 189 yards. But the Falcons threw for only 4 yards (48 total) in the first half and hurt themselves with eight fumbles. Montgomery removed Swanigan from the game after the senior stopped trying to fight for yards after he heard the whistle at the end of the third quarter. Montgomery attributed his decision to pull Swanigan to "a lack of focus."
"There is so much going on around us and we cannot center in on and focus on what we need to do to be an effective quarterback," Montgomery said. "I thought it was time to pull him back and give someone else a shot."
Columbus will take on New Hope next week.
"You have to be able to respond to adversity. That is what great teams do," Montgomery said. "There is no way you can play a ballgame without some adversity. There is no way you can go through a season without adversity. You have to learn to respond. Unfortunately, I don't think we did that. We have to be better coaches.
"You can't go anywhere but up from a loss like that. I think they will respond. We will find out Monday morning."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.