MACON — Tyrone Shorter likes the direction the Noxubee County High School football team is going.
The veteran coach knows he has a defense that is capable of dominating. He also feels his offense can score with the best Class 4A teams in the state.
On Friday, he learned Noxubee County also is adept at capitalizing on mistakes and turning them into a victory. Buoyed by a strong effort from the offense and scoop and scores by Kavorkian Brewer and Jeffery Simmons, Noxubee County opened Class 4A, Region 4 play last Friday with a 48-25 victory at Kosciusko. Leading only 21-19 at halftime, the Tigers (5-2, 1-0 region) used the turnovers in the fourth quarter to score 14 points that helped put the game away.
“The turnovers played a role, but we felt good about our team,” Shorter said. “They couldn’t stop us. They had a play here or there that kept it a ballgame. They have a good football team. I am not going to take anything from them. They are well coached. The turnovers definitely changed the game, but I felt good about where we were before the turnovers.
“I thought our defense did a great job creating the turnovers.”
Noxubee County, which is ranked No. 3 in this week’s The Associated Press poll, will try to build on that momentum at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Leake Central (6-1, 1-0) in the school’s Homecoming game. In the district opener, junior quarterback Timorrius Conner was 13 of 17 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. One of his touchdown passes went to Simmons, a junior defensive end, who is splitting time at defensive end and defensive tackle.
Shorter said he was pleased with the Tigers’ execution on offense and their ability to generate balance between the running and passing attacks.
“My offensive coordinator, James Patterson, and our offensive coaches did a good job of putting our kids in good situations,” Shorter said. “As soon as we gave up the big play, we came right back down and scored. They couldn’t stop us all night. We are at our best when we can run it and throw it, and we were at our best Friday night. I thought we had our way with them, but, at times, it was hard to stop them, too.”
Shorter complimented the Whippets for “attacking” his defense, which he said was in position to make plays but didn’t. He said the defensive effort was similar to the one his team delivered in a 51-19 loss to Starkville in the season opener. In that game, Noxubee County uncharacteristically missed a lot of tackles and didn’t play with its usual energy or show its ability to swarm to the football. Shorter attributed part of that performance to the fact his defense is trying to recover from a handful of injuries that forced the Tigers to use different personnel against the Whippets.
Thankfully, Noxubee County is healthier on offense. Shorter said feels his offensive line is communicating better, which is helping it open more holes for the running backs. He said that will be a key because the Tigers need to be balanced between the run and the pass if they want to improve their chances of going through the North to play for the Class 4A state title. To do that, Noxubee County might have to beat Kosciusko again.
After the game, Shorter mentioned that a Kosciusko player told him that the Whippets would see the Tigers again this season. For that to happen, both teams would have to reach the semifinals of the North State playoffs.
Shorter knows the distractions of Homecoming — namely a dance at the civic center in town after the game — will be there, but he also knows his team will be able to clinch a playoff spot with a victory. That will be the first step toward securing first place in the region and guaranteeing a home playoff game in the opening round.
Through seven games, Shorter believes Noxubee County is on track to realize that goal and is putting the pieces together to challenge again the best in the North for an opportunity to go to Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville to play for a state title in December.
“I asked our team, ‘What if we put a perfect game together?’ ” Shorter said. “I heard one of the offensive and one of the defensive players talking on our way back from Kosciusko and they were saying, ‘When we’re one, you’re not on, and we’re one, you’re not on.’ I thought about that and that is totally true. We haven’t been on except for one game — the Louisville game — when all three phases of the game were on point, and you saw the result (a 48-14 victory). All three phases of the game haven’t been strong in any other game we have played. I am trying to get our kids to understand all three phases of the game have to be good. That is what we are striving for.”
Shorter feels his kids will be able to put things together because they are focused. He said they haven’t worried about rankings or injuries or losses to rivals. He hopes the little things — like communication between the offensive linemen — can continue to iron themselves out to help the team click. He said the offensive line “had a heck of a game,” which allowed the running game to go for more than 200 yards and for Conner to throw for nearly 200.
“It was just a little film watching and making the wrong calls,” Shorter said. “When they were supposed to slide, they weren’t sliding, but I think we have corrected it. The guys have a lot of confidence, and I like that about them. They think they can run the football, and they want to run the football. They are more in sync. They know what is at stake.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.