December 5, 2017 10:59:07 AM
"We score, we win."
L.C. Clemmons' message to his Noxubee County High School football teammates was simple. With the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State title game tied at 35 with 6 minutes, 15 seconds remaining, the Tigers had destiny in their hands.
Noxubee County didn't get off to a good first or second or third step. Armoni Clark threw an incompletion on first down from his 17-yard line. A holding penalty pushed the Tigers back 5 yards. A completion to Kyziah Pruitt lost 1 yard. Suddenly, East Central, which lost standout running back Tony Brown to a dislocated shoulder early in the second quarter, had hope and its fans rose to make noise on third-and-16.
But Noxubee County found a way.
Clark connected with Pruitt on an 18-yard pass play to the right sideline that extended the drive. A 35-yard screen pass on a blitz and a pass interference penalty gave the Tigers a first-and-goal from the Hornets' 7. Three players later, Clark hit Maliek Stallings on a slant pass to the left with what proved to be the game-winning points in a 41-35 victory at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Noxubee County's victory capped a nine-game winning streak that gave the program its fifth state title.
In the final matchup of the six-game weekend, West Point rolled past Hattiesburg 41-15 to cap its first 15-0 season for the program's ninth state championship. While the Green Wave's win lacked the drama of the Tigers' victory, it was just as impressive because it wrapped up a dominating season that saw the Green Wave extend their winning streak to 28 games.
For their accomplishments, the Noxubee County and West Point high school football teams are The Dispatch's Prep Players of the Week.
The Golden Triangle very easily could have had a third MHSAA team win a state title. Unfortunately, Pearl edged Starkville 21-17 in the Class 6A game on Friday to deny the Yellow Jackets the gold ball. Still, the championship weekend concluded a memorable prep football season that also saw Starkville Academy win its seventh Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) state title.
"I want to cry but I can't," Noxubee County senior lineman Myles Smith said as he surveyed the celebration on the field following the Tigers' victory.
Later that night, there were plenty of tears as the West Point players savored the feeling of winning a second-straight state championship and recording the program's first 15-0 season. After a season of dominance, it was almost as if the Green Wave players could exhale and relax with the knowledge that they had achieved history.
The feeling was just as satisfying for the Tigers, who played to honor James Patterson, their former offensive coordinator, who died March 18 after a battle with cancer. In a game that saw Noxubee County fall behind 14-0 and 28-14, coach Tyrone Shorter's team used a spectacular effort from Clark, its senior quarterback, and a cavalcade of big plays to overcome an East Central squad that was looking to win its first state title.
Smith's 95-yard kickoff return might have been one of the biggest plays on a day when the Tigers looked like they wouldn't be denied. Clemmons, a senior linebacker, epitomized that resolve when he flew across the formation and stopped Cameron Gray for a 4-yard gain. The tackle prevented a big game that could have shifted the Hornets' fortunes. With one minute remaining, Noxubee County was called for a chop block that gave East Central a first down at the Noxubee County 45. Keymarcus Jackson ended the drama with an interception that set off a frenzy.
Clemmons said the Tigers' decision to go to a six-man front in the second half helped them slow down the Hornets, who still rushed for 400 yards. Clemmons said he asked the coaches to put him in position to blitz more to counter the Hornets tackles, who were blocking him off.
"I am the heart of the team. I go hard every play," Clemmons said.
Hard work, determination, and dedication are staples of the West Point High football program. It would be hard to talk about the greatness of Marcus Murphy (226 yards, four touchdowns) and Chris Calvert (103, two) without praising the efforts of an offensive line that paved the way for 354 yards. It also is impossible to ignore a defense that stymied Hattiesburg's high-powered attack with three interceptions.
The championship helped West Point move into sole possession of second place for most titles in MHSAA history. South Panola leads with 11, but West Point separated itself from Bassfield and Louisville with its latest conquest. It was a victory Murphy, Calvert, and all of the Green Wave will savor for a few more days. That's when the returning West Point High football players will get back to work to see if they can write another first in the decorated history of one of the state's best programs.
"It feels unreal," Calvert said. "I am speechless. This was a great season."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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