MACON — Normalcy is returning to the Noxubee County High School football team.
Ordinarily, a 34-point victory wouldn’t be cause for celebration for the reigning Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state champions. But when your coach says you’re not playing “Noxubee County football” and you’re mired in an atypical four-game losing streak, even the smallest sign of program can be hailed as an achievement.
Two weeks ago, Noxubee County took the first step toward getting back on track with a 22-12 victory against Kosciusko in the Class 4A, Region 4 opener for both teams. Last week, Noxubee County validated that victory with a 41-7 win at Leake Central that Shorter said was his team’s best game of the season. The 41 points are the most the Tigers (4-4, 2-0 region) have scored this season. The seven points are the fewest they have allowed.
By now, Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter usually has seen several 40-point explosions and a few shutouts. But losses to Aledo (Texas) High, Meridian, West Point, and Kemper County left Shorter and the Tigers searching for answers. Following a dominating effort on both sides of the ball, Shorter is feeling about his team as it prepares for another pivotal Region 4 game against Louisville (6-2, 2-0).
“We said all week that we had to get back to playing Noxubee County football,” Shorter said. “We’re used to scoring 35 or 40 points. We’re used to shutting people out, so we just have to get back to that type of football down this stretch. Friday night our kids really came out and played hard.”
Shorter said he took his starters out with three minutes left in the third quarter. He said the score against his second- and third-string defense didn’t bother him because the Tigers are trying to stay healthy for what they hope is a long road into December. For a team that has battled injuries all season, any time starters aren’t on the field has to be seen as a blessing, especially when you’re still without senior defensive lineman Jefferey Simmons (ankle). Shorter said Monday he isn’t sure if Simmons will be cleared to practice this week. He said he won’t play Simmons against Louisville if he doesn’t practice. If Simmons is cleared and returns to practice this week, Shorter said he will have to be convinced Simmons is ready to go.
Other than Simmons, Shorter said Noxubee County continues to return to 100 percent. That improve health is best reflected in the production at running back, where senior Shunessy Sherrod rushed for touchdowns of 10 and 21 yards. Earlier in the season, Shorter said Sherrod was slowed with a leg injury that left him at 80-85 percent. Without a healthy Sherrod, Noxubee County struggled to establish a consistent running games in its first six games. While the Tigers were able to move the football, they often had to rely on senior quarterback Timorrius Conner and the passing game. But Shorter liked what he saw from the offensive line and the running backs who rotated into the game against Leake Central.
“We got our run game going,” Shorter said. “We played about four running backs and everybody we put out there was productive. Our offensive line really came off the football. I think getting the running game going opened up our passing game.”
Shorter saw the same high level of execution on defense. He admits the Tigers still have to clean up several things, including limiting their penalties. He even had to smile about the fact the Tigers were 6 of 7 on extra points. That is another sign of growth because the Tigers didn’t have a kicker early in the season and were forced to go for two-point conversions.
A week after hearing his offense say it was going to score more than 40 points and his defense say it was going to pitch a shutout, Shorter is encouraged by what he is going to see this week against one of his program’s biggest rivals and its former head coach, M.C. Miller.
“We are just trying to get into that mind-set that it is time to play playoff football,” Shorter said. “We are approaching each game like it is our last one, and our kids are starting to buy into that.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.