MACON, Miss., - Noxubee County picked right back up where they left off last season.
The Tigers pitched seven shutouts in 2008 en route to the Class 4A State Championship. Friday night they notched another one blanking Starkville 30-0 to kickoff their title defense.
"We did that a lot last year but we weren't expecting a shutout here tonight," said Noxubee coach M.C. Miller. "We're proud of it and the guys really played hard. We were out of position a lot but we made up for it with quickness. Not bad for the first game."
Noxubee County rolled up 320 all-purpose yards and took advantage of three Yellow Jacket turnovers on the evening. The Tigers picked up 142 yards on the ground and another 123 via the air.
Vincent Sanders is one of the most sought after wide receivers in the area on the recruiting scene but lined up at quarterback on Friday. He completed 6-of-9 passing for 123 yards and two touchdowns and also scored another on the ground.
"We knew that if he was up under center that we were going to have to run the ball more and he could run it too," Miller said. "I'd rather have him out wide but it worked out alright. He might have to stay there for a while."
Fullback Earnest Harmon showcased his receiving skills hauling in four passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
"If Vincent is going to have to play quarterback I've got to have some hands," Miller said. "Earnest has got the best hands on the team. He will be out there a lot when Vincent is under center and we've been throwing it to him."
Patreon Hopkins led the Tigers on the ground carrying five times for 69 yards and a score.
But it was Noxubee's speed on both sides of the ball that made the difference according to Starkville coach Bill Lee.
"Really and honestly, you can't hide speed," Lee said. "They are fast and quick over there and we weren't on both sides of the ball. Simply put, you can see who was the faster team."
The Tigers wasted little time putting up points. Sanders returned the opening kickoff 47-yards and then carried the ball in on a bootleg to the right from 3-yards out five plays later. Sanders hit Jontae Skinner for the two-point conversion for the early 8-0 lead.
Starkville quarterback Jaquez Johnson fumbled on their opening possession which was recovered by Denarrius Hunt of the Tigers. Sanders took advantage of the good field position rolling left and hitting Harmon from 30-yards out for the score. Hopkins ran in the two-point conversion for the quick 16-0 advantage.
It appeared the score would remain that way when Starkville pinned the Tigers inside the 1-yard line just before halftime. But Noxubee orchestrated a 12-play drive highlighted by a 49-yard reception by Harmon followed up by a 19-yard scoring strike from Sanders to Harmon. Hopkins pounded the two-point play.
"We needed that," Miller said. "We weren't expecting to score because they had us pinned down on the half-yard line. We were just going to go in up by two touchdowns. But after we got to pounding them and got to moving it, we saw that we could do some things and put more pressure on them and were able to go up 24-0 at halftime."
The Tigers would add one more score on their first possession of the second half when Hopkins broke loose on a 61-yard touchdown scamper. He also picked off a pass on the next play from scrimmage.
Noxubee did get a scare early in the fourth quarter. Up 30-0, Sanders was still in at safety and came up to lower the boom on Yellow Jacket running back Billy Shed after an 11-yard reception on the right sideline. The hit left Sanders woozy and with pain in his jaw.
After spending a few minutes on the sideline with medical personnel, Sanders walked to the ambulance under his own power and was taken to the hospital to get checked out. He returned a text message just after midnight stating that the doctors could not find anything wrong but set up a dentist appointment for him on Saturday.
Starkville was limited to 105 yards of total offense with 66 yards passing a 33 yards rushing to go along with three turnovers.
"You win together and you lose together," Lee said. "We had turnovers and a lack of execution. We will grow from it. I just see us getting better. We just have to go back to the drawing board and work. We lack depth and we've just got to find some depth to play four quarters."
Johnson completed 8-of-20 through the air for 66 yards and an interception.
Jakarta Agnew led the Yellow Jackets on the ground with 37 yards on 11 carries while Jirtavious Cox paced the receiving corps with two catches for 19 yards.
Wide receiver Chuck Tillery missed Friday's game after suffering a fractured tibia. He had successful surgery on Tuesday and will be out for four weeks.
First Quarter: NC- Vincent Sanders 3-yard run (Jontae Skinner pass from Sanders) NC- Earnest Harmon 30-yard pass from Sanders (Patreon Hopkins run) Second Quarter: NC- Harmon 19-yard pass from Sanders (Hopkins run) Third Quarter: NC- Hopkins 61-yard run (run failed)