MACON — The notion of a “must-win” game in September is a foreign concept to Noxubee County High School.
In the last decade, the Tigers have waited to play those games in November and December. Three state championship trophies go a long way to proving that Noxubee County has come out on top in a majority of those matchups.
But things haven’t come quite as easily this season for a program that has built a reputation on a high-scoring offense and a dominating defense. While the defense has been its usual stingy self, the offense has sputtered since the Tigers opened the season with victories against Starkville and Columbus. Since then, Noxubee County has suffered its first three-game losing streak since it lost the final four games of the 2006 season.
To make matters worse, Noxubee County has scored only 12 points in losses to Aledo (Texas) (10-6), Meridian (28-0), and West Point (21-6). That total is the Tigers’ lowest in a three-game stretch since 1999, when they scored eight points in losses to Meridian (16-8), Columbus (24-0), and Shannon (41-0).
Noxubee County (2-3) will try to snap its losing streak and get back on track at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays at Kemper County (2-2). The game will wrap up the Tigers’ non-region slate and set the stage for its Class 4A, Region 4 opener next week against Kosciusko in Macon.
That’s why Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter feels the urgency about trying to find the cure to what ails his team.
“This season reminds me of 2013 when we came off that championship year,” Shorter said. “We are moving the ball up and down the field, but when we get in the red zone, we have problems. It is not like we don’t work on it.”
Shorter said it has been equally disappointing and frustrating to see the Tigers move the ball against talented opponents only to see mistakes — wrong protection calls, muffed punts, turnovers — plague his offense.
Last week, Shorter said West Point took a page from Aledo (Texas) High and Meridian in that it rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. He said the Green Wave also picked their spots to pressure quarterback Timorrius Conner with blitzes. He said the Tigers still moved the ball well and threw the ball well, only be victimized by the wrong protection calls up front that limited Conner’s time to throw the ball.
Shorter has tried to remain positive in the three-game losing streak. He said everyone on the team shoulders responsibility for the Tigers’ struggles on offense. Ultimately, though, he admits the Tigers will have to make plays if they want to realize the goal they set in the preseason: become the school’s first football team to win back-to-back state championships.
“We have worked on the slides and the protection,” Shorter said. “They are doing a great job in practice, but when they get in the game they just go haywire.
“What is so disappointing about this is coming into the season we thought offense was our strong point. We have about nine starters returning from an offense that averaged 35 points a game last year. This year, we are struggling. We just can’t put our hands on the reason we are struggling.”
Shorter pointed to the Tigers’ injuries at running back as continuing problem. He said Tuesday all but one of the team’s stable of backs is able to play, but he said several of the players still aren’t 100 percent, including senior Shunessy Sherrod. Shorter said senior Javarcus Walker should be back and ready to take on a bigger role.
In an attempt to get some of those running backs going, Shorter said last week that the Tigers were going to make a point to get the football into the hands of their playmakers. He said the Tigers tried to do that against West Point with minimal results.
“I told the kids, it is up to them,” Shorter said. “I think the coaches are doing a great job of preparing them, but they are not making enough plays. Muffing punts, dropping balls, making the wrong protection slides, that is on them. They have to make the right calls in the football game. It is there. The plays are there, but we always break down and something always hurts us.
“I refuse to let this team (give up),” Shorter said. “I know we have the team that can get back to the state championship. I refuse to let 2013 repeat itself all over again.”
In 2013, Noxubee County scored 27 points in its first three games (one shutout). In games five through seven, the Tigers equaled that output. In all, they were shut out twice in a finish that ended with a loss to Lafayette.
Shorter said this year’s team is different because it is much more experienced than the 2013 squad, which makes it more frustrating. He said he has reminded the players the team has played arguably the state’s toughest non-region schedule. All five opponents are higher classification teams. Aledo is the reigning Class 5A, Division I state champion.
Shorter said the Tigers have listened to him when he says they have to “move on” from each loss, but he acknowledges the team is out of time to correct its mistakes because Class 4A, Region 4 begins next week.
Shorter said Noxubee County likely will begin that journey without senior defensive end Jeffery Simmons. He said Simmons will be out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. While the absence of The Dandy Dozen lineman will be significant, Shorter likes how his defense has played this season. He acknowledges, though, that other players will have to emerge to pick up the slack for Simmons.
The Tigers hope the same thing will happen on offense, where the Tigers are looking for their experience to start paying dividends so they can find their rhythm and make plans for some more “must-win” games in November and December.
“The good thing about it is the things that are hindering us are things that are coachable,” Shorter said. “I know this team is going to be fine. I know our division is going to be tough, but playing these non-division games is going to prepare us for that.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.