December 4, 2012 10:04:36 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
JACKSON -- Energy and effort transformed into joy twice Saturday for Greater Golden Triangle football teams.
The Noxubee County High School football team set the championship atmosphere in the afternoon by defeating Greene County 16-6 to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state title.
The Starkville High Yellow Jackets followed suit later that night with a 28-11 victory against Pascagoula to win the Class 5A state title at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The emotion was palpable. From the tears of the Tigers to the back flips of the Yellow Jackets, the release was a just reward for two 2011 seasons that ended with losses.
For their accomplishments, the Noxubee County and the Starkville high school football teams are The Dispatch's Prep Players of the Week.
The championship was the second for Noxubee County, which finished 16-0 for the first time in school history. Noxubee County, which also won a title in 2008, lost in the second round of the Class 4A North State playoffs last season.
For Starkville, the title was the program's fifth, and first since 2001. It lost to Picayune in the Class 5A state championship last season.
"It feels good because we are the second team in the state of Mississippi to go 16-0," Noxubee County quarterback DeAngelo Ballard said. "We topped the 2008 team's record. They were 14-0. I just feel like we are a better team than they were. I think so (that it ends the discussion about which team is better). It is deja vu because I saw everything that happened tonight."
Noxubee County is the fourth school to go 16-0 in a season. Lafayette County accomplished that feat in 2010 and 2011, while Bassfield and Hazlehurst did it Friday in winning Class 2A and Class 3A state titles.
Ballard admitted he didn't get nervous the first time he saw the championship unfold in a dream. On the field, though, he felt a little unsettled because things kept going wrong for the Tigers. Through it all, though, the team kept its focus and stayed the course to run the table.
"I was like, 'We ain't clicking,' " Ballard said. "We went three or four or five series without moving the ball. They were kind of worried. We tried everything. Finally, we were patient and we were able to break it."
Noxubee County overcame a deep thigh bruise to senior running back Darrell Robinson and received key contributions from senior Javancy Jones and wide receiver turned running back Fernando Phillips, one of 23 seniors. Phillips' 12-run in the first quarter helped give the Tigers an 8-0 lead. Led by a 12-tackle effort by Dylan Bradley and an 11-tackle performance by Javoris Glenn, the defense held up its end of the deal, even if it didn't get the shutout it coveted.
"It is hard to compare to the West Point, the Starkville game, or the Lafayette game when we came up really big defensively, but this is the one that counts," Noxubee County defensive coordinator George Richardson said. "I think when we got scored on we easily could have gotten down on ourselves and started pointing fingers, but they didn't. They kept it cool. To me, that is why this is the biggest defensive effort we have had all season."
After the game, emotion consumed many of the Tigers as they hugged teammates and celebrated on the field. Bradley said he dedicated the victory to two nephews who died. One passed away last year, while the other passed away in 2010. He played like he was on a mission, too, as did the rest of the Tigers. Maybe that's why they were so spent following the victory. All season, coach Tyrone Shorter talked about how the team was going to use the 2011 season as motivation. With expectations squarely on their shoulders, the Tigers didn't disappoint.
"We just stuck with our game plan," Shorter said. "My coaches do a very good job. Hats off to these guys. I am nothing without those coaches. They did a very good job putting the game plan together."
Starkville also faced lofty expectations. To get back to Jackson, the Yellow Jackets overcame the loss of Devin Mitchell on New Year's Day and then persevered through a regular season that saw three other offensive starters go down with season-ending injuries. Factor in that senior defensive stalwart David Fair Jr. played most of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and quarterback Gabe Myles missed two games early in the season with an ankle injury and Starkville weathered more than its share of adversity.
But Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said his team used mental focus and a deep roster to overcome the obstacles. In his 23rd year of coaching, Mitchell finally had an opportunity to experience the long-awaited Gatorade bath at the end of the evening.
"I think what a lot of people don't understand is what these kids go through," Mitchell said. "It has been a year in the making. All of that emotion is the culmination of a year of work."
Mitchell watched with a smile as his players tumbled, ran, slid, and jumped all over the Veterans Memorial Stadium field after the final whistle. Unbridled happiness doesn't begin to describe the scene, as players soaked in the moment and remembered the difficulties they overcame to realize their goal.
Mitchell said the moment was special for him, too. After coming close to winning state titles at other schools, he said the experience was "an incredible feeling." He said the emotion his players showed was based in part on a sense of relief and the fact that 80 guys stuck together and played as a team to accomplish something they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
Mitchell said the victory was equally special because Starkville won a medal for Mitchell.
"We talked about him and his presence before the game," Mitchell said. "My mind quickly went to him as the seconds were ticking down. It was just completely unbelievable. I looked up at the sky and it was a crystal clear night and the moon was shining bright and there was one star over the middle of the field. It was kind of ironic how it worked out, but on the way home I looked out the window and the sky was filled with stars. ... His memory will last forever here with this team and teams to come in the future."
A night of effort, energy, and emotion also will be one football fans in this part of the state remember for a long time.
Adam Minichino is sports editor at The Dispatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.