MACON — The Noxubee County High School football team is one week closer to its goal.
No, we’re not referring to the Oct. 20 “Y’all vs. Us” matchup against Louisville.
The date Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter has circled on his calendar is Oct. 14, when his team will play a Class 4A, Region 4 game against Houston. By then, Shorter hopes to have all of his injured players — particularly quarterback Deangelo Ballard and running back Ladarrell Hunt — back and ready to go.
If everything goes according to plan, the timing would be ideal and give Ballard, Hunt, and the rest of the Tigers a week of game action to prepare for their game against the Wildcats. That televised matchup figures to decide which team will win the region championship.
Remember, though, there is an “if” involved in the equation, and part of that will play out at 7 tonight when Noxubee County (6-1, 1-0 region) will play host to Leake Central (3-4, 1-0).
“You really don’t want to look ahead, but you see that game (against Louisville), too,” Shorter said. “Don’t get me wrong, Houston has a great ballclub, so we’re not looking past them. You’re not looking past (Leake Central) either. But we still have some guys injured and we’re not quite 100 percent, so we’re going to hold them out. Our plan four weeks ago was to have everyone back for the Houston game going into the Louisville game.”
Ballard, Hunt, running back Darrell Robinson, and Charles Hughes were among the walking wounded who didn’t play last week in a 33-0 victory against Kosciusko in the district opener.
Shorter said juniors Jarvis Taylor and Fernando Phillips and seniors Dequalo Martin and Lemadric Macon emerged against Kosciusko. He said their play bolsters a group that runs behind a strong offensive line that has been the anchor of the Tigers’ success.
“The kids are starting to get the picture that we have to play as a team and everybody is important,” Shorter said. “They are starting to come together and play as one.”
Shorter said the silver lining in all of the injuries is so many sophomores and juniors have earned playing time, which he hopes will help the team down the stretch, into the playoffs, and next season.
The defense earned a shutout despite not using its starters more than one or two quarters last week. The maturation was a big step forward considering how Noxubee County built a 45-0 lead midway through the third quarter against New Hope, substituted, and then lost momentum and held on for a 45-29 victory.
“They have matured,” Shorter said. “They have progressed a lot from the third week of the season. They have been getting a lot of playing time, and it is starting to show. I think the second half of the Kosciusko game the second string guys played the whole way and we still didn’t give up a point. I am proud of that.”
Shorter said several of the injured players will dress out tonight and only will be used in emergency situations. Even though some of the players haven’t seen game action, Shorter said Ballard has healed faster than expected. As a result, he worked last week in practice and is starting to regain his timing.
“He looked a little rusty in spots, but it didn’t take him long,” Shorter said. “By the third day of practice he started going back to his old self.”
Shorter said it has been a challenge to keep his players focused when they know players are being held out to have them ready for one later in the season. He said the game against Louisville complicates matters because everyone in the community has been waiting all season for that game, and it is difficult to avoid the hype.
But distractions like that can knock a team off course, even one like Noxubee County, which lost to Lafayette in the North State title game last season and is ranked No. 2 (behind Lafayette) in The Associated Press Class 4A poll.
“Any team can get beat on any given Friday, so you have to be prepared and ready to go,” Shorter said. “That is the reason you can’t afford to look past anybody. We want to take care of our business and get prepared for (Leake Central) and then worry about Houston and Louisville.”
Leake Central snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a 20-6 victory against Caledonia in its region opener.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.