Coach Tyrone Shorter’s Noxubee County players made two promises to him in the spring.
They were going to win the Class 4A state championship.
And they were going to go undefeated in doing it.
The Tigers, led once again by their lights-out defense and a gutsy effort from running back Darrell Robinson, made good on that promise Saturday with a 16-6 victory over Greene County.
“I’m speechless,” said senior defensive lineman Dylan Bradley. “This is the first team in Noxubee County history to go 16-0. This is the big stage where you make your name.”
The Tigers, ranked No. 2 in The Clarion-Ledger Super 10, took the championship trophy back to Macon for the second time and first since 2008, when Shorter was an assistant under M.C. Miller.
“These guys came out and worked hard all spring and summer and did what they told me they were going to do,” said Shorter. “I believed in them because of their attitudes and work ethic.”
Noxubee led 8-6 after three quarters.
Robinson, who set the state single-season touchdown record last week, all but sealed the win with a 1-yard TD run with 3:55 left.
It was the 50th touchdown of the season for Robinson, who was hampered by a thigh bruise all game.
“I never in my lifetime thought I would finish with that many touchdowns,” said Robinson. “I’m speechless. It was tough because I couldn’t even plan on it. But I wasn’t coming out of the game. I didn’t come this far to lose.”
The Noxubee defense made sure that wasn’t going to happen, holding Greene County to 121 yards of total offense.
The Tigers dominated the first half, allowing just 27 yards of offense and two first downs.
But Noxubee clinged to an 8-0 halftime lead thanks to a 12-yard run by Fernando Phillips on the Tigers’ second series of the game.
Greene County responded on the opening drive of the second half though, scoring on a 13-play drive capped by Lamarcus Franks’ 5-yard run. But the Wildcats came up short on the two-point conversion try.
“We knew they were going to make a run, but we kept telling our defense not to give up the big play,” said Shorter. “They didn’t. The players kept going hard, and they would bend but not break.”
Robinson, who surpassed former Weir standout Dicenzo Miller’s TD mark (47) last week in the semifinals, finished with 176 yards on 37 carries.
“This guy has been incredible all year,” Shorter said. “He got hurt in the first quarter, and he kept saying, ‘Coach, let me play. Let me play.’ He went out on top.”
Bradley led the defense with 12 tackles, including 21/2 sacks and four tackles for loss.
Javoris Green had 11 tackles.
“They’re so athletic,” said Greene County coach Johnny Ainsworth. “They were tough. I thought we had them a little worn down later in the game. We just didn’t get that two-point conversion. … I’m so proud of our kids. We came so close.”
The unranked Wildcats (10-5) were seeking their first title since Ainsworth led the school past Cleveland in the 3A title game in 2003. They reached the title game despite finishing third in Region 8-4A.
Franks finished with 51 yards to lead the Wildcats and Terrance Woods completed 8 of 16 passes for 49 yards, but it wasn’t quite enough for Greene County to pull off the upset.
“We knew we’ve been the underdogs, but we don’t read things like that,” said Ainsworth. “We knew if we played well we had a chance. I give it up to my kids. They went out here and played, and we had a chance.”
But in the end, it was the Noxubee defense that proved to be too tough. “I think it’s our speed and quickness,” said Shorter. “These guys made a commitment to work in the weight room, and adding that strength to go with our speed and quickness made the difference. I am just so proud of this team, and I am proud of this coaching staff.”