November 21, 2017 11:09:54 AM
MACON -- Green space is an offensive lineman's dream.
On every snap, the goal of a tackle, guard, or center is to finish or to hold a block long enough so a running back or quarterback can slip through a hole and take off.
Anterrious Gray and his Noxubee County High School linemates saw plenty of green grass Friday night. They hope their success in a 43-13
victory against Corinth in the third round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs
carries over to this week, when No. 1 seed Noxubee County (9-4) will play host to No. 2 seed Louisville (12-2) in the Class 4A North State title game at Tiger Stadium.
Center Michael Barber, tackles Dequavion Prince and Justin Davis, and guards Anterrious Gray and Ervin Gray helped the Tigers pile up 54 carries for 487 yards and five touchdowns en route to their seventh-straight victory.
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.
Junior running back Ja'Qualyn Smith led the way with 20 carries for a career-high 287 yards and two touchdowns, while senior fullback L.C. Clemmons had 16 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown.
"We knew we were going to come out and have to run on them," Anterrious Gray said. "If we were able to run it on them, it would open the passing game."
Noxubee County didn't need the strong arm of senior quarterback Armoni Clark or the speed of junior wide receiver Kyziah Pruitt or senior Rashad Eades because the offensive line did such a good job. Gray said the offensive linemen took it as a challenge when the coaches informed them the Tigers were going to keep the ball on the ground. He said he is proud the offensive line has come a long way since the beginning of the season.
"We were playing selfishly and weren't taking responsibility for what we were doing wrong," Gray said. "After that, we came together and we know what we're doing wrong. We're playing as a group now -- all as one -- to make it better."
Gray said the Tigers struggled to run the ball in a 2-4 start in part because the offensive linemen wouldn't take ownership of their mistakes. He said the offensive linemen finally realized the team has a shot to win a state title and began to change.
Gray also said the team took motivation for wanting to win a state championship for James Patterson, their longtime offensive coordinator who died March 18.
"When we took those losses, it really knocked us down a little bit," Gray said. "As we got into district play and dominated district, we realized we are a good team and we can go all of the way."
Following losses to Starkville, Meridian, West Point, and West Monroe (La.), 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. It also set the Tigers on a path to win their sixth-straight region title with another undefeated run that helped them extend their Region 4 winning streak to 30 games.
Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter praised offensive line coach John Sallis after the game for devising a blocking scheme that was perfect against Corinth's defense. He said the offensive linemen took time to adjust from the style of former offensive line coach Michael Ashford to Sallis, a former head coach at Leake Central.
Gray agreed that the Tigers' offensive line is "a lot better" from the beginning of the season.
"It felt like we weren't playing up to the best of our ability (early in the season)," Gray said. "I knew we were better. Now, we are playing pretty good. I still don't think we are all the way there because we can get better."
When told the Tigers had rushed for 487 yards, Gray smiled and said, "I think we still can get better."
Clemmons hopes that is the case so he will get to see a lot of green space. He said coach Sallis helped the offensive line get on track by working them on the blocking sleds. Clemmons said that training helped wake the offensive linemen up and helped the Tigers balance out the passing attack led by Clark.
Shorter acknowledged the offensive linemen had growing pains adjusting to Sallis at the beginning of the season. He said the Tigers had a great week of practice and were focused on dominating at the point of attack so Smith, Clemmons, and the rest of the Tigers could run free in green space.
"At first, they were fighting against him because they were used to coach Ashford doing it a certain way," Shorter said. "When coach Sallis came along, he had a different style. I think once they stopped fighting against him and started believing in him and built that trust, it took off.
"It is a different offense, too. It is different terminology and different blocking schemes, so once we got that straightened out, we are starting to take off with the offense. I think the last seven weeks we really have been playing great football."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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