September 10, 2017 1:13:25 AM
MERIDIAN -- Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter wanted to take back his team's penalties Saturday night.
Senior linebacker Terry Joiner wanted to take back a handful of big plays late in the first half.
Either one most likely would have prevented Noxubee County from dropping a 35-20 decision to Meridian in a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) game at Ray Stadium.
The Class 6A Wildcats have beaten the Class 4A Tigers three-straight times in the series. Few losses had to be as painful as this one. Two years ago in this stadium, Meridian won 28-0.
This game was different. Noxubee County appeared in complete control until the final minute of the first half.
"We gave up some big plays," Joiner said. "It hurts because we played really well. We just can't let our foot off the gas anymore. We were just dominating at the line of scrimmage and doing what we wanted to do. Then we let up and it was big play, big play, big play."
Despite 12 first-half penalties, Noxubee County led 7-0 throughout the half. Meridian didn't have a first down until less than two minutes were remaining in the half.
Meridian (1-2) then struck for a 30-yard touchdown pass from Tevarrius Adams to Eli Stringfellow with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the half.
Meridian called all of its timeouts back and got the ball back. Adams hit Curt Martin for 39 yards and Kendrick Brown for 40 yards on back-to-back plays. The Brown touchdown meant a 14-7 lead.
Meridian then went on offense to begin the second half. After a nice kick return by Adams, Rodriquz Mosley ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run.
The Wildcats finished with 363 yards. Of that total, 152 came on those four plays.
"The big plays really hurt us," Shorter said. "We got down emotionally down at the end of the half. We fought hard for four quarters and all that. However, the final minute of the first half was a killer."
Equally devastating for Noxubee County were 18 penalties for 155 yards. The Tigers has two critical pass interference calls that extended drives. Leading 7-0, Noxubee County had a drive where four first downs were brought back by holding penalties.
"We just can't win with 18 penalties," Shorter said. "This is not a criticism of the officials Meridian (16 for 135 yards) had their fair share, too. We just shot ourselves in the foot over and over. The game was lost in the second quarter where we were doing everything right, minus the penalties. We could have gotten some separation there."
In his first start of the season, Armoni Clark hit his first nine pass attempts. Clark hit Rashad Eades on a 26-yard pass play to bring the Tigers back within 21-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Meridian then dialed up the big play again. This time, Jaquaris Dean broke off a 75-yard run. The horse collar call on the play set Meridian up on the Noxubee County 7-yard line.
"We felt like we needed one play," Joiner said. "We felt like one turnover could change the game."
This time, the Tigers had that big play. JaQuarius Jamison had an interception at the goal line.
The officials initially ruled Jamison out of bounds on the catch. After a conference, the play was changed to an interception and the ball spotted on the 20 for a touchback.
After another conference, the officials moved the ball back to the 1-yard line and said no touchback. The change proved lethal.
On first down, Noxubee County gave the turnover back as a mishandled snap was recovered by Xavier Curry for a Meridian touchdown and another two-score lead.
"We had an uphill battle the entire second half," Shorter said. "I think our guys know what we are capable of."
Clark was 18-for-26 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Eades and Kyziah Pruitt were held in check for the most part.
The Noxubee County defense excelled again up front. The Tigers had seven sacks after collecting 11 in a victory against Columbus.
"As a senior, it is my job to keep coaching the younger players up," Joiner said. "Coach always tells us we need to win the battle in the trenches. We did that tonight."
Noxubee County (2-2) will regroup before facing reigning Class 5A State champion West Point next week in Clay County.
"I feel like we are the better team (compared to Meridian)," Shorter said. "Sometimes the better team doesn't win. We can't get down about it. We just have to come back out Monday and go back to work."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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