Noxubee High School senior quarterback Armoni Clark, shown above against West Point earlier this season, was 13-for-18 for 266 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 49-27 victory against Kosciusko. He has thrown for 829 yards and six touchdowns in the last three weeks. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
October 20, 2017 11:10:15 AM
MACON -- It's great to see Tyrone Shorter smile again.
Region play has a way of generating good spirits for the Noxubee County High School football coach.
Ever since Shorter took over the program from M.C. Miller in 2010, he has insisted on filling the Tigers' non-region schedule with some of the toughest games possible. Yearly matchups against Starkville, Columbus, West Point, Meridian, Kemper County, and others as well as out-of-state matchups have littered Noxubee County's schedule. The results of those games often have left the Tigers primed for a run at a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State championship.
This season could wind up like one of those title seasons in 2012, 2014, and 2015. That's because Noxubee County appears to be hitting its stride after a four-loss non-conference slate left Shorter frustrated and searching for answers.
"I know we have a tough schedule, but we normally have more fight out of our kids than we are having," Shorter said following a 47-14 loss to West Point, a 43-3 loss to Starkville, and a 35-20 loss to Meridian. "It seems like this group of kids, I don't know if they want it bad enough."
Shorter was even more optimistic this week coming off his team's 49-27 victory against Kosciusko 27. The victory helped the Tigers (4-4, 2-0 region) clinch a Class 4A playoff berth and moved them within a win of clinching their sixth Class 4A, Region 4 championship in a row.
At 7 tonight, Noxubee County will look to extend that region winning streak to 29 when it plays host to Leake Central (4-4, 0-2).
"It's a great feeling from how we started to now we are a win from clinching another division and getting a No. 1 seed in the playoffs," Shorter said. "That was our goal in a tough district. Being in this position, I am pleased."
Noxubee County led Kosciusko 26-20 after three quarters before pulling away. Senior quarterback Armoni Clark threw two touchdowns to Kyziah Pruitt and another to Rashad Eades. Clark also scored on a quarterback keeper. Jaqualyn Smith rushed for three touchdowns.
"Offensively, I think we are almost there," Shorter said. "Our offense is really clicking. We are putting up some numbers and scoring. I was expecting us to be there at this point."
Through the first five games, Noxubee County allowed 152 points, which was the most points it has surrendered in that span since it gave up 174 in 1995. In the last 14 years, the Tigers allowed more than 96 points in their first five games only twice (133, 2016). Noxubee County surrendered 38 in a loss to West Monroe (La.) and 30 in a victory against Louisville. And while big plays and penalties continue to be issues, Shorter has seen improvement. He also likes how his offense is coming together at the right time.
"We're getting better," Shorter said. "Our discipline is getting there and our penalties are down."
Shorter said the Tigers have moved junior Maliek Stallings to cornerback. Stallings played quarterback last season and earlier this season before Shorter opted to go to Clark only. The move shifted Stallings to wide receiver, where his athleticism has given the Tigers another option that can stretch defenses. On the other side of the ball, Shorter said Stallings' quickness and size has helped strengthen the secondary.
"Pound for pound, (Stallings) is probably the best athlete on this football team," Shorter said. "The kid can do so much. He has a long frame, long arms. I am seeing him do some things at defensive back that are making me go, 'Wow.' This guy has a lot of raw talent."
Shorter said the Tigers also appear to have found the right mix on the offensive line, too, which has sparked the running game. He said the offensive linemen are doing a better job picking up blitzes and communicating, which is giving Clark more time to throw the football and to ensure the offense remains balanced.
"Our quarterback play is the difference," Shorter said. "Once those guys bought into what my vision was, our offense looks so much better. They are starting to have fun, which is where we need to be."
That's bad news for the next two Region 4 opponents as well as the rest of the classification because the Tigers have made a habit of playing their best football in November and December. Shorter hopes that is the case this season after a slower start left him questioning things. Now that some of the answers are falling into place, Shorter is smiling more easily.
"It is starting to really look good," Shorter said. "I just have a smile on my face because I like where we are. It is starting to get here at the right time."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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