MACON, Miss., – Torrential rain began to fall just before the opening kickoff between Noxubee County and Itawamba AHS.
The rain continued to pour throughout the first quarter causing two fumbled snaps for the Tigers on their first two possessions. Itawamba took advantage of the turnovers quickly building a 14-0 lead.
But as the rain lightened the Noxubee County offense went to work. The Tigers responded with 28 unanswered points to win 28-14 remaining undefeated at 11-0 and advancing in the MHSAA 4A State Playoffs.
"We dug ourselves a hole in that first quarter there," said Noxubee head coach M.C. Miller. "The guys are fighters and they are not going to give up. We didn't panic. We kept at them and kept playing. Our main thing was our quarterback fumbling the ball. But finally when the rain slacked up we got everything on track."
The wet conditions slowed the usually potent Tiger offense holding them to only 213 total yards. Noxubee picked up 160 yards through the air and 53 yards on the ground against the Indians.
Tiger quarterback Termarcus Conner had a tough start to the game with the two fumbled snaps and had to be taken out of the game with an injury in the second quarter. But Conner came back to finish the night 11-of-20 for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was just a good effort by him to comeback," Miller said. "He got hurt and then came back and played well."
Vincent Sanders had a huge night for Noxubee picking up 144 total yards of offense and two touchdowns. Sanders hauled in five passes for 127 yards and a score and also had one rushing touchdown while filling in at quarterback for the injured Conner in the second quarter.
All-American receiver Patrick Patterson also caught a pair of touchdowns to finish the night with five catches for 32 yards for the Tigers.
Earnest Harmon led the Noxubee rushing attack with 23 yards on seven attempts.
After the first Tiger fumble, Itawamba took over the short field at the 25-yard line. It took six plays but quarterback Malkhail Miller punched it in from 3-yards out. Kevin Marks ran in the fake extra point for the early 8-0 lead.
Noxubee fumbled their first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive to set up the next Indian score. Running back Deshawn McGaughy ran in from 10-yards out for the 14-0 advantage.
Noxubee finally got things going midway through the second quarter. After being hurt earlier in the drive, Conner came back in to pull the Tigers out of a jam.
Faced with 4th-and-8 from the IAHS 17-yard line, Conner reentered and rolled left to find Patterson on a scoring strike in the corner of the end zone. The two-point run failed leaving the score at 14-6.
Conner went down again just before the half. The Tigers again placed Sanders under center facing 4th-and-goal. Sanders rolled left but tucked the ball down and dove into the end zone from 4-yards out with 14 seconds remaining. Sanders tossed the two point conversion to Harmon to tie things up entering intermission.
Noxubee took the lead on their second possession of the second half. It only took one play as Conner dropped back and hit Sanders on a stop-and-go route for a 74-yard touchdown pass.
"That kind of broke the game open," Miller said. "We ran the stop to them earlier and the guy bit on the stop hard and we got a few yards on it. We knew that it was time to run the stop-and-go. We ran it and he laid it out there perfect. We knew that that was kind of a back killer. That kind of took the pressure off. Up until then I was still on pins."
The Tigers extended their lead early on in the fourth quarter in a drive that spilled over from the third. Conner hooked up with Patterson again for a 6-yard touchdown to build a 26-14 lead.
Devoris Taylor slipped down at the 4-yard line on the ensuing kickoff giving Itawamba tough field position. The Tiger defense took advantage of the situation when Ladarius Mitchell sacked Miller in the end zone for a safety.
The Indians were limited to 199 yards on the night with 163 yards rushing and 36 passing.
"We know that we've got a good defense," Miller said. "It's just a matter of keeping them playing. We don't depend on our defense because we are going to make big plays somewhere down the line. We just tell (the defense) not to give up the big play. We want to make a team drive. We just gave them the short field a couple of times and they didn't have far to go."
McGaughy led the Indians with 159 yards on the ground with a touchdown on 24 attempts.
Miller was held to 2-of-10 passing for 36 yards and an interception by Jimmy Roby. Mississippi State fullback commit William Shumpert had five carries for 17 yards.
Asian Ruff caught one pass for 31 yards for Itawamba.
The Indians end their season at 10-2.
Noxubee County advances to take New Hope (8-4) in the third round on Friday. The Tigers defeated New Hope 44-7 in district play in late September.
"I haven't seen them play anymore but from what I've heard they've got a good ball club," Miller said of the Trojans. "We know that they are going to be ready to play. They've done made a big improvement. They are going to give it all they've got and I know that. The main thing is we've got to go there and they are going to be hyped up. I hate playing the same team twice but sometimes that's what it takes to do what you've got to do."
Noxubee County 28, Itawamba AHS 14
Itawamba 14 0 0 0 -14
Noxubee 0 14 6 8- 28
Itawamba – Malkhail Miller 3-yard run (Kevin Marks run)
Itawamba- Deshawn McGaughy 10-yard run (kick failed)
Noxubee – Patrick Patterson 17-yard pass from Termarcus Conner (run failed)
Noxubee – Vincent Sanders 4-yard run (Earnest Harmon pass from Sanders)
Noxubee – Sanders 74-yard pass from Conner (kick failed)
Noxubee – Patterson 6-yard pass from Conner (pass failed)
Noxubee – Ladarius Mitchell safety
First downs: IAHS 12, NC 7
Rushing: IAHS 45-163, NC – 25-53
Passing: IAHS 2-10-36-0-1, NC 11-21-160-3-0
Return yards: IAHS –33, NC-60
Penalties: IAHS – 6-43, NC-2-15
Turnovers: IAHS – 2, NC-3
Rushing- Itawamba- Deshawn McGaughy 24-159-TD, William Shumpert 5-17, Malkhail Miller 12-9, Team 4-(-22); Noxubee – Earnest Harmon 7-23, Vincent Sanders 2-17-TD, Patrick Patterson 3-17, Patreon Hopkins 4-11, Termarcus Conner 4-(-1), Team 5-(-14)
Passing: Itawamba- Malkhail Miller 2-10-36-0-1, Noxubee- Termarcus Conner 11-20-160-3-0, Vincent Sanders 0-1-0-0
Receiving: Itawamba- Asian Ruff 1-31, Bronson Smith 1-5, Noxubee- Vincent Sanders 5-127-TD, Patrick Patterson 5-32-2 TD, Earnest Harmon 1-13, Teddy Young 1-(-2)