MHSAA Class 4A Preview

Poplarville quarterback Antonio Barnes hands the ball off to running back Tyson Holston. Keith Warren/MHSAA.

Another year of high expectations means it’s just another regular year at Noxubee County.

The Tigers have won the MHSAA Class 4A state championship three times in the last four years and are once again the slight favorite to repeat as the 4A state champions.

“Our expectations are always the same and the guys take a lot of pride and want to keep the tradition going,” said Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter. “A lot will be determined by our quarterback play. If we can get good play there, we will be alright and can keep everyone in place to make our offense more explosiveness. I think we’re in good shape there.”

Khris White will make the switch from defensive back to quarterback for the Tigers but will have several skill players around him to take the pressure off.

Running back Jaqualyn Smith returns after rushing for 1,039 yards with seven touchdowns to anchor the rushing attack.

A big key is two of the Tigers top receivers are back in Mississippi State commit Kyziah Pruitt (1,230 yards receiving, 13 touchdowns in 2017) and Maleik Stallings (201 yards receiving, 2 touchdowns). Stallings started the season as the quarterback last year before Armani Clark took over the helm in Week 3.

Like always the Tigers look to be dominant on defense.

Noxubee County will return eight starters on that side of the ball, led by linebacker Chaokang Brooks (90 tackles, 19 sacks in 2017). Also returning is defensive tackle Verdell Clemons (49 tackles) and linebacker Eldrick Hopkins (76 tackles). Stallings and Keymarcus Jackson (four interceptions last year) will anchor the secondary.

“We feel like our defense will be better this year just because of all the experience we got back,” Shorter said. “We feel better about this team. This group reminds me of the 2012 and 2013 team. These guys have been working hard and are excited about the season.”

 

NEXT IN LINE

Louisville: With 14 starters back and it being M.C. Miller’s last year as head coach, the Wildcats want to send him out a winner. Louisville has the ingredients to once again make a deep run in the Class 4A playoffs. Deontae Yarbrough returns at quarterback after tossing for 1,564 yards with 13 touchdowns while rushing for 367 yards with five touchdowns. Kevon Jackson (761 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns in 2017) will anchor the always potent Louisville rushing attack. Defensively is where the Wildcats will be the toughest. Defensive tackle and Mississippi State commit Charles Moore returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. He’ll anchor a veteran front seven along with linebackers Ashanti Cistrunk and J’Kevious Hibbler. Defensive backs Marcus Glenn and Kedarius Dixon will lead the secondary.

Poplarville: The Hornets bring back eight starters on both sides of the ball, however must replace its most productive player on offense. Austin Bolton is gone returners include Tyson Holston (853 yards rushing, 9 touchdowns in 2017), Cory Knight (934 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns) and Ross Barnett to lead the potent double wing rushing attack. Quarterback Antonio Barnes is back after throwing for 712 yards with five touchdowns last year. The Hornets expect to open up the playbook this year and put the ball in the air more than in recent years. Barnett will also be the leader on defense at linebacker after recording 189 tackles and two sacks last year. Caziah Daniels and Canaan Ray will anchor the secondary.

East Central: Last year was a year of firsts for the Hornets. Having to replace its top three play makers on offense is going to be a work in progress. With Tony Brown gone it’s going to be Cameron Gray (794 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns in 2017), Ryan Evans (581 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns) and Dylan Grinsteinner (467 yards rushing, 7 touchdowns) leading the potent rushing attack for the Hornets. Will Young will be the new starter at quarterback. The defense is going to have lead the team early on with eight starters returning. Linebacker Avery White (202 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 interceptions in 2017) will anchor the veteran front seven along with defensive end Joel Reiser. Trenton Baldock (6 interceptions last year) will lead the secondary.

South Pike: The Eagles reached the third round of the Class 4A playoffs last year and bring back every player that scored an offensive touchdown. South Pike brings back nine starters on offense, led by quarterback Dontavious Turner who tossed for 1,525 yards with 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,170 yards with 15 touchdowns. Deldrionn Amos (953 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns) returns at running back. Defensively the Eagles bring back six starters but must replace their top two tacklers. Linebacker Marquell Brumfield (98 tackles in 2017) will lead the front seven, while Amos and Willie Taylor (68 tackles, 2 interceptions last year) will lead the defense.

Clarksdale: The Wildcats were upset in the first round of the playoffs at home against Corinth last year. Cameron Matthews will take over as the new quarterback after leading the team in rushing a year ago with 483 yards and 10 touchdowns. Defensively, the Wildcats bring back their top two tacklers in linebackers Trejan Latham (112 tackles) and Alshun Ross (101 tackles) and will lean those two guys to anchor the veteran defense that returns nine starters.

Pontotoc: The Warriors are aiming for a bounce back year after reaching the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. Pontotoc has a lot of firepower back on offense led by quarterback Justin Carter who passed for 1,476 yards with 13 touchdowns. Running backs Immanuel Vance (942 yards, 7 touchdowns in 2017) and Gabe Harmon are back (637 yards rushing, 7 touchdowns). Defensively, Pontotoc must replace its top five tacklers but some key guys return led by Jermarkus Whitefield, Ralph Dunn and Brayden Ball.

Senatobia: The Warriors are coming off a 7-6 season that included a Region 1-4A championship, and they reached the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. John Michael Foster returns at quarterback and Deondre House at running back to lead the offense. Jarius House will lead the Warriors defensively.

Florence: The Eagles were bitten by the injury bug in 2017 and still wound up reaching the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. Florence will be trying to outscore teams this year with most of their playmakers back on offense. Ian Vaughn returns at quarterback after tossing for 2,293 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushing for 871 yards with 10 touchdowns. Promising running back DeGerrick Lee returns after missing half the season with a broken foot. He still rushed for 1,396 yards with 14 touchdowns. Florence only brings back three starters on the defensive side of the ball, led by defensive tackle Tyler Patrick (68 tackles in 2017).

 

SLEEPER

Greene County: Wildcats were a bit of a surprise in 2017 under first year head coach Michael King going 11-2 and reached the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. Greene County must replace quarterback and three of its four top rushers from last year. Kevin Dortch and Garrett West return as the top wide receivers for the Wildcats. Defense is what Greene County will lean on a lot with majority of the starters back on that side of the ball. Linebacker Noah Mitchell (148 tackles in 2017) and defensive tackle Blake Daughdrill (99 tackles) will anchor the front seven, while Que Washam will lead the secondary.

 

CLASS RANKINGS

  1. Noxubee County
  2. Louisville
  3. Poplarville
  4. East Central
  5. Pontotoc
  6. South Pike
  7. Clarksdale
  8. Senatobia
  9. Florence
  10. Greene County

 

GAMES TO WATCH 

Sept. 28: Poplarville at Greene County

Oct. 5: Noxubee County at Louisville

Oct. 19: Florence at South Pike

Oct. 19: Itawamba AHS at Pontotoc

Oct. 26: Corinth at Senatobia

Oct. 26: Greenwood at Clarksdale