Familiar 4A rivals face off

It’s a case of déjà vu for MHSAA Class 4A North football teams.
Tonight’s 4A quarterfinals games in the North feature rematches of some notable postseason games from recent seasons.
Itawamba AHS, the Daily Journal’s top-ranked large school, hosts Noxubee County tonight. IAHS has lost to Noxubee County in the playoffs the past two seasons.
“We hope the third time’s a charm,” said Itawamba AHS head coach Jamie Mitchell.
In the North’s other quarterfinals game, Shannon hosts Lafayette County, a team the Red Raiders beat 7-0 in last year’s quarterfinals.
“Any time we get together, it looks like what I call old-school football – hard-nose tackling and good defense,” said Shannon head coach Chad Cook.
“The last time we played them, both sides struggled to move the ball. They’re a little different than in the past when we played them and we’re a little different as far as philosophy on offense this year.
“It’s going to be a good one, though.”
And both Mitchell and Cook agree that these four Class 4A teams remaining in the North can compete with anyone in the state and that should make for two very good quarterfinals games.
“I think all four teams in the quarterfinals are four of the best football teams in the state,” said Mitchell, whose team is 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 4A by The Associated Press. “These four teams can play with just about anyone in 5A or 6A.”
And that’s expected when you get to the quarterfinals, says Cook.
“When you get in the third round, you get a team that’s hard nosed, that executes on both sides of the ball,” said the Shannon coach, whose team is 11-1 and ranked third in the Journal’s large schools’ rankings. “These are four great teams and any of these four can represent the North (in the championship game).”
There’s a reason …
After watching film of Lafayette County, Cook said he saw a well-coached team that is solid on defense and produces on offense without committing turnovers and penalties.
“That’s the reason why they’re 12-1,” he said.
Mitchell observed the same of Noxbuee County and was quite impressed with the Tigers’ D.
“I think this is the best defensive team they’ve had,” Mitchell said of the Tigers (12-1), who have recorded 10 shutouts this season. “It’s scary to watch them. Unbelievably, this is the best defensive team we’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
The IAHS coach also pointed out that the Tigers still have “big-play potential on offense” with wide receiver Vincent Sanders.
“You’re not going to stop him; you just hope to contain him a little bit,” Mitchell said. “He’ll be able to go to school anywhere. He’s the best player on the field on any Friday night in this state.”
If he’s on the field, that is; Sanders missed the second half of last week’s playoff game with a hamstring pull.
The same could be said for Shannon running back Keon McGaughy, who scored the lone touchdown in last year’s quarterfinals win over Lafayette.
“He’s the best running back we will have seen this season,” said Commodores head coach Anthony Hart. “We’ve seen some good ones, but he’ll be the best one we have played against.”
The Commodores have a standout player in the making in 6-foot-3, 235-pound sophomore quarterback Jeremy Liggins. He has thrown for 1,239 yards and 14 TDs, while rushing for 1,202 yards and 15 TDs.
“When you’re watching him, the only thing that makes you know he’s a sophomore is the media guide,” Cook said. “He looks like he’s been playing two or three years. …
“He reminds me a lot of the guy from Itawamba (QB Maikhail Miller) size wise. He flips his wrist and can throw it 50 yards. He looks like a really strong, athletic kid. I’ve never seen him in person.”
The Red Raiders will see him firsthand beginning at 7 tonight at Shannon.

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal