That, however, was exactly the situation Toby Collums and his Itawamba AHS Indians found themselves in Friday night when they hosted fellow unbeaten Noxubee County for the third round of the 4A state playoffs.
The visiting Tigers proved their ranking and vaunted defensive reputation was warranted as they stifled star running backs Ashton Shumpert and Charles Moore, holding the seniors to a combined 73 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Noxubee lost two first-half fumbles and was stopped in the red zone three times by an emotional IAHS defense, but a first-quarter touchdown strike from DeAngelo Ballard to Charles Hughes proved to be all the offense the Tigers needed as defense carried them to 16-3 victory.
“We played a heck of a football game on both sides of the ball,” Noxubee coach Tyrone Shorter said. “We always could throw the ball, we just didn’t need it. We knew we had to come into this game and throw the ball some and we did.”
IAHS (12-1) looked good early when Shumpert broke freefor 36-yard gain on a third-and-10 play deep in Indian territory that set up an eventual 37-yard Tyler Dossett field goal.
The Tigers (13-1) quickly responded, though, when a nifty return from running back Darrell Robinson to the Itawamba 48 set up a short field.
Two plays later, Ballard hooked up with Taylor from 36 yards out for the first, and only, lead change of the night.
The quick scores were followed by dominating defensive play.
Ballard, who finished the game 5 for 12 for 100 yards and a TD, continued to find Taylor as the Tigers moved the ball through the air, but fumble recoveries by IAHS’ Mike King and Reggie White kept the game at a 8-3 halftime margin.
Noxubee continued to maintain a field position advantage in the second half and cashed in on another short field midway through the fourth quarter when Robinson scored from 6 yards out.
“We knew going in that Noxubee’s defense was big, fast and strong, and that we were going to have a difficult time sustaining drives,” Collums said. “You just hope that at some point to find something you can use to sustain a drive, but we never did.”