October 31, 2018 9:16:53 AM
Reigning state champion Noxubee County won't be the favorite Friday when the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs begin.
The Tigers aren't even projected to win the North State championship.
Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter, his staff, and the Tigers like it that way.
Shorter has led the Tigers to three of the last four state championships. If you do the quick match, that would make Noxubee County 17-1 in the last four postseasons.
That means this is their time of year.
Noxubee County will begin the latest installment of the Class 4A playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to New Albany, which finished 7-4 and is the No. 3 seed from Region 1.
Noxubee County is 6-5. The Tigers finished 3-1 in Region 4 to place second behind Louisville.
The Tigers just missed out on a seventh-straight region title due a last-second loss to the Wildcats.
The Tigers no longer are the walking wounded as they finalize preparations for the postseason.
Kyziah Pruitt, a Mississippi State commitment, is the best player in so many areas. He has played in five games.
When region play began, eight Tigers were sidelined or limited. Shorter kept preaching his team would be better when postseason play began.
After the loss to Louisville, Noxubee County responded with 62 points against Kosciusko, 45 points against Leake Central, and 46 points against New Hope.
Junior quarterback Khristopher White is coming into his own after being limited himself earlier. White has thrown for 1,183 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The touchdown number needs to climb, while the interception number needs to hold steady for the team to have postseason success.
On the ground, Ja'Qualyn Smith has developed as one of Class 4A's best rushing threats. Smith has run for 824 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Tigers are averaging 194.8 yards rushing and 141.9 yards passing per game. Those are good enough numbers to win in Class 4A.
Former quarterback Maliek Stallings is another freakish athlete who can help at quarterback and receiver, but his main calling card is on defense.
On defense, the under-valued Tigers have forced 23 turnovers and have 12 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions.
Senior Keymarcus Jackson has three interceptions, while junior Tyrese Hopkins has four fumble recoveries.
Overall, it's a team that does enough things in enough different areas to be a state title contender.
Typically, the brackets include some easy games early. This year, that likely won't be the case.
After facing New Albany, a second-round matchup could come against Greenwood (8-2).
Corinth (9-2) is the highlight of the bottom part of this bracket.
Most likely, the North State championship game would be against Louisville (10-1). That matchup would take place at Louisville, just like the regular-season game.
While there is a lot of football left to be played, Noxubee County would relish a rematch against Louisville for a chance to advance to the state championship.
East Central (9-0) is again the class of the southern part of the state.
A year ago, Noxubee County beat East Central 41-35 in the state championship game.
The road to another title begins Friday. The road may end there, or it may extend for four more weeks and end in Hattiesburg.
What we do know is Shorter will have his team ready.
The Tigers are back in their element. This is when they shine.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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