FULTON – The moment was not lost on Maikhail Miller.
Standing in front of the largest crowd he’s ever seen, the Itawamba AHS junior quarterback surveyed the scene in the aftermath of the Indians’ biggest victory in years.
“This was crazy,” Miller said of Itawamba’s 21-12 win over Shannon on Saturday, which took place in front of a raucous, overflow crowd and gave the Indians the Division 1-4A championship. “You live to play in games like this, and to win it feels incredible. This felt like a college game out here.”
Played on a crystal-clear afternoon, the clash of 1-4A heavyweights that had been brewing throughout the season lived up to its expectations. With a dominant second half, the Indians exceeded them.
Trailing 12-6 at halftime, the Indians used a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a dominant defensive effort to earn the nine-point win over a Shannon squad that hadn’t allowed 20-plus points since the season’s second week.
“This was a special, special win,” said IAHS head coach Jamie Mitchell, who watched his squad wrap up its second division title in three years to cap a 10-0 regular season. “There’s just something about these kids. We were trailing at halftime but never got down on ourselves, and these kids took it to another level in the second half.”
Tailback Deshawn McGaughy, who rushed for 164 yards on 15 carries, erased the deficit on the first play of the fourth quarter, crashing in from two yards out. When Glynn Brown added the extra point, Itawamba led 13-12, its first lead of the day.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Miller would put the game away for the Indians, sprinting in for a 16-yard touchdown with 4 minutes, 47 seconds to play. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Miller connected with Devonta Jackson, who made a sliding catch to give the Indians a 21-12 lead.
“One of my coaches ran up to me and told me ‘Let’s put this game away right here,’” Mitchell said. “The players went out and executed perfectly.”
Miller, who completed nine passes for 122 yards, also had a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Itawamba’s big win was never easy, as the Indians had to withstand a brutal first-half push from the visiting Red Raiders, who scored two second-quarter touchdowns to take a 12-6 halftime lead.
Shannon QB Legilbert Bogan opened the scoring with a 57-yard strike to senior Chris Davis, and all-everything tailback Keon McGaughy, Deshawn’s first cousin, added a 9-yard scoring run.
“That’s a really good team over there,” Shannon head coach Chad Cook said. “There’s a reason they were 9-0 coming into today. It was a hard-fought game between two good teams, and they made the plays to win the game.”
For Itawamba, the win came courtesy of an inspired second-half effort. Defensively, the Indians held Keon McGaughy to just 10 yards on five second-half carries and sacked Bogan twice. Safety Colin Chatham recovered a fumble at midfield to set up Deshawn McGaughy’s go-ahead score.
“This was just a phenomenal defensive effort today,” Mitchell said. “Nobody has been able to stop (Keon McGaughy) all year, but our guys didn’t let that stop them.”
Shannon’s senior tailback finished with 118 yards on 20 carries, his lowest output since week four.
With the loss, Shannon falls to 9-1 overall and 5-1 in division play, which sets up a first-round home game Friday night against Kosciusko.
“This was a tough football game today,” Cook said, “but it’s just one loss. Next week, we’ve got a new season in front of us. We’ll come back to work on Monday and get ready for a big game on Friday.”
With the win, top-seeded Itawamba will get ready for a home date against Amory. The Indians opened the season with a 49-6 win over the Panthers in August.
“We’re going to enjoy this one for a little bit,” Mitchell said,” but come Monday, we have to be ready to take on a very-improved football team.”
Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal