November 7, 2017 8:38:59 AM
MACON -- Slant might be the favorite word in Kyziah Pruitt's receiving vocabulary.
In the Noxubee County High School football team's passing attack, slant is code for an old-fashioned go route in which a receiver sprints toward the end zone and dares a cornerback to stay with him.
Pruitt had plenty of fun with Armoni Clark on Friday night. The junior wide receiver hooked up with the senior quarterback twice on slant patterns and had three of his five touchdowns on offense to help No. 1 seed Noxubee County beat No. 4 seed Amory 48-26 in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs at Tiger Stadium.
"Coach prepared us well. He told us we were the better team and we had the better athletes," Pruitt said. "The word of the week was approach. We knew we were the better team, but we just had to come out and play like it."
As much fun as Pruitt had making four catches for 165 yards, he recorded his favorite moment in a 29-point second quarter that helped Noxubee County (7-4) turn the momentum.
With the Tigers leading 33-20 thanks to Pruitt's 55-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Panthers (4-8) attempted a 41-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the first half. Noxubee County's Terry Joiner blocked the kick before everything slowed down. The ball ricocheted backward as the Tigers celebrated. Meanwhile, the Noxubee County coaches were screaming for their players to pick the football up and run with it.
Pruitt heard his coaches, but he paused.
"I picked it up and I was standing there," Pruitt said. "The coaches were fussing at me, so I just took off."
Pruitt looked up and saw Joiner and L.C. Clemmons in front of him, so he raced to the right sideline and darted up the field untouched for a touchdown that extended the lead to 41-20 at halftime.
"I haven't done that before," said Pruitt, when asked why the play was his favorite of the game. "It happened so fast.
"I didn't think it was going to be open. I just took the sideline and I saw L.C. and Terry (Joiner) running around and I decided to follow them. They opened it up for me."
The victory extended Noxubee County's winning streak in first-round playoff games to 15 dating back to a 24-8 loss to Florence in the first round in 2000. The Tigers didn't qualify for the playoffs in 2006. The average margin of victory in that streak is 26 points.
The 48 points also is the Tigers' highest output in those first-round victories.
Noxubee County will play at Yazoo City next week in the second round. Yazoo City, the No. 3 seed from Region 3, beat Ripley 24-23 in the first round Friday.
"Monday was a really great practice. Tuesday was a great practice," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "It seemed like Wednesday we kind of relaxed. We did a lot of situations and made so many mistakes. The guys weren't focused. I wasn't pleased with Wednesday's practice, and I think that carried over."
Despite Shorter's admonitions that the Tigers shouldn't overlook the Panthers, they didn't appear to listen. Amory used slant and screen passes and strong running by Jartavis Jernighan (33 carries, 156 yards) in the first quarter to take a 13-12 lead.
In the second quarter, a 3-yard pass from Jernighan to Ryan Ray helped the Panthers push their lead to 20-12.
But Amory couldn't stop Noxubee County's passing game.
Clark, who already had connected with Pruitt on a 61-yard touchdown strike, hit Pruitt sprinting down the left sideline for a 66-yard touchdown on the Tigers' first play following the Panthers' score.
From there, Noxubee County shifted into overdrive. Pruitt's interception return for a score seemed to sap Amory of its energy. Clark's 40-yard score to Pruitt on the Tigers' next drive extended the lead to 33-20. Pruitt's scoop and score off the blocked field goal attempt was the dagger.
The second half was a formality, as Amory grinded away with Jernighan on the ground. The Tigers answered the Panthers' only score of the half with a 34-yard run touchdown run by Clemmons.
"A lot of things went wrong and we weren't focused," Pruitt said. "I think the slow start carried over from that."
Shorter said the Tigers needed Pruitt to deliver a five-star effort to provide a spark. He said the Tigers' other Division I talents, guys like Rashad Eades and Maliek Stallings, also have to raise their levels if the team is going to get back to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, the site of the MHSAA's state title games. Noxubee County won the Class 4A State championships in 2014 and 2015. It lost to Pontotoc in the third round of the playoffs last season.
"He put this team on his back tonight and he wasn't going to be denied," Shorter said. "That is what great players are supposed to do. The great ones that came through here, that is what we did. We rode the great players. He is a Division I talent, and he has to play up to that potential."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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