OXFORD – As the final two minutes wore off the clock in the Class 4A state championship, the finality of Jeffery Simmons’ high school career wore visibly on his face.
Standing among his teammates on Noxubee County’s sideline, Simmons pointed at the sky as tears streamed from his eyes. The emotion of the moment was overwhelming for the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder, who had just won his third state championship.
The end is nowhere near for the No. 1 player in Mississippi. Soon, Simmons will choose where he’ll continue his playing career between the likes of Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and other SEC powers.
But the time he spent developing into a one-in-a-generation player ended on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Noxubee County beat St. Stanislaus 44-23 for a second straight year to capture the 4A title, its third in four seasons.
Tigers coach Tyrone Shorter pulled Simmons in for an embrace in the final moments of the game. This was his leader, who ‘did everything right’ for four seasons, and their relationship is bound by so much more than what happens inside four quarters.
“I just told him that I was so proud of him and I just thank him for allowing me to coach him all these years,” Shorter said. “He sent me a text message before the game. It was really, really emotional. He was just telling me thanks for being that father that he doesn’t have. We’ve had a bond together all of these years. It was just a special moment for us.”
Simmons and the Tigers’ defensive line set the tone against the Rock-a-chaws. Pressuring St. Stanislaus quarterback Myles Brennan, who owns Mississippi’s single-season passing and touchdown record, was critical in getting off to a fast start.
“We knew we had to get pressure on their quarterback,” Shorter said. “He’s good, and we knew that we had to flush him out. People playing him, rushing three people and all that, we just knew we had to get a lot of pressure on him. We knew if we cut the head off the snake, everything else dead.”
Brennan finished 19-of-33 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
Noxubee County’s defensive line made St. Stanislaus one-dimensional. Its dominant pass rush broke through the Rock-a-chaws’ offensive line and terrorized Brennan, who was sacked seven times for 58 yards. The Rock-a-chaws (11-4) also totaled minus-47 yards rushing.
“Their front was phenomenal,” St. Stanislaus coach Bill Conides said. “They’re bigger, faster and more physical than we were, so it was tough for us to get into a rhythm.”
Noxubee County (12-4) jumped out to a 25-0 lead behind two 1-yard rushing touchdowns from Ladaveon Smith and Simmons and a 14-yard pass from quarterback Ti’Morrius Conner to Kymbotric Mason in the second quarter. The Tiger defense came up big after Qendarrion Barnett forced a fumble that was returned 97 yards for a score by Kyziah Pruitt with 2:21 remaining in the half.
“The D-Line came to play,” Simmons said. “It’s an honor for me, being a leader. Before we came on the field I told them I really need you to play tonight, and that’s what they did.”
St. Stanislaus relied on its own scoring defense to get on the board in the third quarter. Under pressure, Conner fumbled on the run and Mason Favre recovered the ball for a 54-yard scoop and score.
Conner threw three more touchdown passes in the second half for 48, 31 and 38 yards. The senior quarterback used his scrambling ability to escape the ramped up pressure and find his receivers on the run.
“Just for him to come out and have this type of game with nobody talking about our offense is special,” Shorter said. “That’s what pissed these guys off. We knew we had a good offense — it’s the same offense that killed them (St. Stanislaus) last year and nobody was talking about us. (Conner) told me, ‘Coach, I will throw for over 300 yards tonight.’”
Conner lived up to his promise. The quarterback threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns.
At one point this season, Noxubee County’s outlook towards earning back-to-back state championships looked bleak. Following a hot start where the Tigers beat 6A champion Starkville and Columbus, the Tigers went a month without winning a game.
Simmons was injured during that month-long stretch with a high ankle sprain. Despite his own adversity, the four-star prospect never lost sight of his team’s goal and fulfilled his role as a leader.
“It’s all about having faith,” Simmons said. “I never lost faith, especially in my teammates. We kept praying, praying, praying and we just stayed together. Like Coach Shorter always says, it’s about how you finish, and I think we finished pretty good.”
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.
Jeffery Simmons, Noxubee County
The four-star defensive end had 3.5 sacks for a loss of 38 yards, four quarterback hurries and four tackles.
Noxubee County has won three Class 4A championships in the past four years.