FULTON – Two days before to playing Noxubee County, Itawamba AHS head coach Jamie Mitchell compared the Noxubee defense to kicking the top off an ant bed.
“Their defense is like ants,” explained Mitchell. “They’re everywhere.”
However, in the second half of Friday night’s MHSAA Class 4A quarterfinals game, it was Itawamba AHS all over the Indian Stadium field.
The Indians outscored the Tigers 27-0 in the final two quarters to eliminate a team that had given them postseason nightmares the past two seasons.
After losing in the second round and the quarterfinals to the Tigers the last two years, IAHS’ 29-14 win on Friday knocked the defending Class 4A champions out of the postseason and set up a rematch of a regular-season contest in the state semifinals next Friday night.
The Indians beat Lafayette County 25-19 on Sept. 11 at Indian Stadium. The two teams will again be playing at Indian Stadium next Friday thanks to the Commodores’ quarterfinals win over the Indians’ division rival, Shannon.
“I don’t know, we were just able to make some plays,” Mitchell said after his team came back in the second half to defeat Noxubee. “I don’t really understand how, but we were.
“We gotta play that way offensively to have a shot next week.”
Noxubee County (12-2) prominently displayed its athleticism in the second quarter of Friday’s game, passing for 186 yards in the period.
Vincent Sanders, who had been hobbled by a bad hamstring, hooked up with Terrance Barron for a 70-yard touchdown pass with 6:15 remaining in the half.
To make matters worse for Itawamba, the Tigers were able to poke the ball out of a streaking Ashton Shumpert’s arms near the goal line on a 60-plus yard run. Noxubee recovered in the end zone for a touchback and then took advantage of IAHS’ turnover.
The Tigers marched 80 yards on 11 plays to go up 14-2 with 39 seconds left before halftime. The key play was Earnest Harmon’s leaping grab of a fourth-and-11 pass from William Johnson at the 1-yard line.
Harmon took the handoff on the next play and went the final yard for the score that silenced Itawamba’s home crowd – but not for long.
The breaks weren’t going Itawamba’s way to start the second half, as the Indians came up short on a fourth and three from inside the Noxubee 15.
And for a while longer, it appeared that the Indians’ only points against a team that had pitched 10 shutouts this season was to come on a safety, when Noxubee quarterback William Jarred Johnson was called for intentional grounding in the end zone halfway through the first quarter.
But Shumpert told his coach at halftime, “Coach, I got this,” alluding to the fact that he was going to make up for his lost fumble.
There he goes …
Sure enough, with Noxubee punting from its own 1-yard line, the Itawamba freshman fielded a punt at the Noxubee 25 and bowled his way into the end zone with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
He wasn’t done there, as he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Maikhail Miller with 8:02 left in the game to give the Indians a 23-14 advantage.
“I’ve said this all along,” Mitchell said. “He’s the best ninth grader I’ve ever coached at his age. He’s a phenomenal athlete.
“I’ve never coached one as good as he is at his age. I don’t know how he’ll progress, but he is a special, special player.”
Miller, who has been chosen to participate in January’s U.S. Army National Combine, got into the scoring act as well with a 3-yard run with 3:39 to go in the third and a 1-yard sneak to ice the game with 3:01 remaining in the fourth.
So what went wrong with Noxubee County in the second half after moving the ball successfully in the second quarter?
“When the game first started, it was all right,” Sanders, Noxubee’s Mr. Everything, said of his hamstring. “But right before halftime, it had messed up on me and I couldn’t really go.
“They (Itawamba) just made big plays and I wasn’t able to do what I was expected to do to help our team win, and we just came up short.”
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal