November 18, 2017 12:40:38 PM
MACON -- "Crazy horse" has turned into "lightning."
Credit L.C. Clemmons for coming up with a nickname that better suits a maturing Ja'Qualyn Smith.
Prior to this season, Smith had earned a nickname of "crazy horse" from former Noxubee County High School offensive line coach Michael Ashford for his penchant for running past his blockers and not being patient enough to wait for plays to develop.
This season, though, Smith has slowed down a tick and is allowing his blockers to do their jobs. As a result, he and Clemmons have teamed to give the Tigers a punishing ground attack.
Smith had 20 carries for a career-high 287 yards and two touchdowns, while Clemmons had 16 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown to lead the No. 1 seed Noxubee County High football team to a 43-13 victory against No. 3 seed Corinth in the third round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs at Tiger Stadium.
"It felt great," Smith said. "I have never run like that before. I had a lot of open space, but that was too much open space.
"It is special. It is a blessing from the man above."
Noxubee County (9-4) had 54 carries for 487 yards and five touchdowns to roll to its seventh-straight victory.
"I didn't think we were going to put up that kind of number, but watching film I thought we could come in and run the football," Noxubee County High coach Tyrone Shorter said. "We stuck with our game plan and it worked. Our running backs did a great job. I told our offensive line that me and coach (John) Sallis were going to have to take them out to eat this week. They were unbelievable tonight."
Reservations might already have been set for Monday at a Mexican restaurant in Noxubee County for the coaches and the offensive linemen. Center Michael Barber, tackles Dequavion Prince and Justin Davis, and guards Anterrious Gray and Ervin Gray helped set the tone for the Tigers. Christopher Pippin, Rickie Hunt, Travorus Hatcher, and Ma'teo Chandler also saw action on a night that Tigers gashed the Warriors' three- and four-man fronts.
"Coach Sallis did a great job getting these guys ready," Shorter said. "The blocking scheme for what they did was perfect."
Noxubee County edged Louisville 35-30 in a Class 4A, Region 4 game on Oct. 6 in Macon. The victory snapped the Tigers' three-game losing streak.
Louisville (12-2) is coming off a 21-13 victory against Greenwood. The Wildcats, who are coached by former Noxubee County High coach M.C. Miller, have lost the last four meetings in the series. Louisville last beat Noxubee County 28-6 on Sept. 6, 2013. The Wildcats also are the last team to beat the Tigers in a Class 4A, Region 4 game. They accomplished that feat with a 14-12 win on Oct. 20, 2011. Since then, Noxubee County has won six-straight region titles and has won its last 30 games in Region 4 play.
The winner will take on the winner of the game between Poplarville and East Central in the Class 4A State title game at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.
Smith's effort put him in elite company. The 287-yard game by the 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior was the biggest by a Noxubee County running back since Darrell Robinson had 39 carries for 326 yards in a 41-28 victory against Louisville on Oct. 18, 2012. Robinson also rushed for 258 yards and five touchdowns (six overall) in a 41-21 victory against Louisville in the Class 4A North State title game later that year. In doing so, he eclipsed the state's single-season record for touchdowns of 47 set by former Weir High standout Dicenzo Miller in 1997.
Noxubee County rode Robinson all the way to a 16-6 victory against Greene County in the Class 4A State championship game. Robinson scored his 48th rushing touchdown -- 50th overall -- against Greene County en route to finishing the season with 2,862 yards (367 carries).
Smith's totals this season -- 136 carries, 943 yards, seven touchdowns -- are modest compared to Robinson's, but Noxubee County is a more balanced offense. The Tigers have rushed for 1,916 yards and 23 touchdowns and thrown for 2,528 yards and 29 touchdowns. Smith's effort was his fourth 100-yard game of the season, while Clemmons notched his first.
Smith's emergence has helped Noxubee County find balance after not having a 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 (Shunessey Sherrod).
"We always knew he could run the football," Shorter said. "He is a small guy, but he is so fast, so quick, so tough. He is the type of guy we can run between the tackles. He is tough enough to take that punishment."
Noxubee County established its dominance on the ground in the first half. The Tigers scored on their first five drives. The first three went for 11, 12, and 10 plays. All told, Noxubee County had 46 plays in the first half compared to 16 by Corinth.
Anterrious Gray, a senior, said the Tigers have seen a lot of three-man fronts this season because teams haven't respected their running game. But Gray said the offensive line is focused on "making" opponents respect the ground attack. He said the offensive linemen didn't do anything differently to prepare. Gray said they took it as a challenge when the coaches told them the Tigers were going to run the football.
"We were happy to hear that," Gray said. "We wanted to take it to them. We want to keep it on the ground and make the game physical."
"Physical" easily could be a nickname for Clemmons, who splits time at fullback and linebacker. "Thunder" will have to do, though, for a 5-10, 215-pounder who is content to run over you if you are in his way. His 6-yard touchdown run capped a nine-play drive on the Tigers' first possession of third quarter and put the game away.
"They did an excellent job," Clemmons said of the offensive line. "We just have to play inside (the tackles). Coach told us to play inside and not try to string it outside.
"At the beginning of the season, we kind of struggled, but we have come together as a team."
No one epitomizes that growth better than Smith, who has a new nickname to carry him through two more games in 2017.
"I want to give thanks to God and the 'O' line," Smith said. "They really put in a lot of work since day one. We struggled at first, but we really have come together as the year has gone on, and our running game has become a lot better."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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