November 30, 2017 10:59:34 PM
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter is ready.
With losses to three teams from the state of Mississippi that played for berths in state title games and another to a team that has advanced to the state semifinals in the state of Louisiana, Shorter believes his players are prepared, too.
Great running backs? Yes, Noxubee County has seen them. Powerful passing attacks and stout defenses? Check, the Tigers have faced them and have learned their lessons.
The proof is in an eight-game winning streak No. 1 seed Noxubee County will take into its matchup against No. 1 seed East Central at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State title game at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.
"This team is battle tested because just about every type of offense a team can run we have faced it," Shorter said. "There is not a team on our schedule that was a cupcake.
"Nothing can faze this team because they have been through the fire. I just hope they are not overconfident because they feel that they have been through everything."
After a 2-4 start that included losses to Class 6A finalist Starkville, Class 5A finalist West Point, Class 6A South State runner-up Meridian, and Louisiana Class 5A semifinalist West Monroe, 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. Noxubee County went on to win its sixth-straight Region 4 title and extended its winning streak in region games to 30.
Victories against Amory, Yazoo City, Corinth, and Louisville in the playoffs have set Noxubee County up to win its fifth state championship, and third in the last four years.
"They know we have to win the trenches on both sides," Shorter said. "When you start getting guys like Justin Davis talking about winning in the trenches, it makes you feel good.
"East Central is going to come out fighting. This is their first time in the state championship. They aren't going to care that Noxubee County has been to the state title game six times. They are going to be hungry for it. They aren't going to lay down and give it to you."
Noxubee County will have to contend with senior Tony Brown, who has a strong case for being the state's best running back.
According to MaxPreps.com, Brown enters the game with 239 carries for 2,580 yards (10.8 yards per carry) and 45 touchdowns. He has 13 of the Hornets' 17 100-plus yard games. In all, East Central has rushed for 4,686 yards and 72 touchdowns. The Hornets are averaging 360.5 yards rushing per game. They have scored 41 or more points 10 times.
Shorter respects what coach Seth Smith and East Central have accomplished to get a chance to play for the program's first state title. Shorter also knows how far his team has come and the lessons his players have learned.
"I heard some of the boys say Monday when we were watching film, 'If we can play with West Point, we can play with this running game,' " Shorter said. "They know what is at stake. They know they have to play. Our practices have been great. It is like the guys are floating on air."
The success of Brown, a 5-foot-9, 187-pounder, places him in elite company with former Noxubee County High standout Darrell Robinson. In 2012, Robinson, who was 5-10, 191, had 367 carries for 2,862 yards and 48 touchdowns. All told, he had 50 touchdowns, which set a state single-season record, and helped Noxubee County beat Greene County 16-6 in the Class 4A State championship game.
Brown had 20 carries for 149 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-32 victory against South Pike on Nov. 17 in the semifinals of the playoffs. East Central beat Poplarville 52-45 last week to win the South State title.
For perspective, West Point, which beat Noxubee County 47-14 on Sept. 15, has rushed for 4,560 yards and 72 touchdowns. East Central has scored 618 points. West Point has scored 645. Noxubee County has scored 459.
East Central senior quarterback Rylee Brown, who is 6-4, 175, has thrown for 904 of the Hornets' 931 yards. He has 10 touchdowns and one interception. Senior tight end Brad Cumbest, a Mississippi State commitment, leads the team with 33 catches for 716 yards and nine touchdowns. He is the only receiver with double-digit catches.
Noxubee County has the added incentive to play for former offensive coordinator James Patterson, who died March 18. Shorter reminisced earlier this week about how Patterson embraced him when he first joined coach M.C. Miller's coaching staff. He recalled how strongly Patterson felt that the 2017 Tigers had the talent and potential to win a state title. One more victory would help Patterson's dream become a reality.
"Our kids are trying to do everything possible to win it for him," Shorter said. "I just want to be able to give that championship ball to his family. I think this group is really, really, really, really going to try to make that happen."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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