By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
Moments after teammate Peyton Jones dove into the end zone for the winning touchdown to give his Warriors a dramatic win against arch-rival Noxapater, Nanih Waiya senior quarterback Stewart Ball raced to midfield and began to celebrate at the top of his lungs.
Then, in a flash, he raced over to the Noxapater sideline and gathered up the “Cross Creek” rivalry trophy and brought the big gold trophy shaped like a football back to the Nanih Waiya sidelines so his team could celebrate.
“They just played their hearts out,” Nanih Waiya head coach Tate Hanna said of his team’s 20-14 overtime win over Noxapater on Thursday night. “They wanted the game this year. I’m very proud of them and I was glad to get that trophy back.”
Noxapater had won the game the previous two seasons, snapping a five-game winning streak by the Warriors in the process.
The game, which was played before a packed house at Nanih Waiya High School, also had district and statewide implications. With the Warriors win over then No. 4-ranked Noxapater, Pelahatchie climbed to the top spot in Region 3-1A with a 6-1 league mark, while Nanih Waiya and Noxapater are both 5-1. Right behind those two are French Camp Academy and Sebastopol with 5-2 marks.
Nanih Waiya is set to close out the regular season with a road trip to FCA this Friday, followed by a home game with winless West Oktibbeha. Noxapater hosts Sebastopol on Friday before visiting West Lowndes on Nov. 8.
“It was a big game and a big district game,” Noxapater coach Justin Hunter said of the loss to the Warriors. “At the end of the day, we have one loss (in the district), Pelahatchie has one loss and Nanih Waiya has one loss. If we can find a win to win our next two ball games, we have the tiebreakers and should win the region. But there is a lot of work to do. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody.”
Nanih Waiya jumped out to a 14-0 lead against Noxapater thanks to second-quarter touchdowns on a 22-yard pass from Stewart Ball to his brother Wyatt Ball, a 20-yard tight end around by Cheston Jones, and a pair of extra point kicks by Gentry Hodge.
But Noxapater cut it to 14-7 at the intermission when Justin Robertson scored on a 5-yard run and the Tigers looked to be about to capitalize on their momentum when the drove the ball deep into NW territory on their first possession of the second half, only to turn the ball over.
“Right after halftime we had the momentum,” Hunter said. “I felt like if we had scored there, we would have had things on our side. It was just one of those nights.”
Noxapater did mange to tie the game with 10:16 left in the contest when Tyrell Carter hit a wide-open Keontae Daniels with an 18-yard scoring pass.
Neither team could score in regulation, setting up overtime.
After Nanih Waiya forced Noxapater to turn the ball over on downs, Jones took a pitch from Ball and raced around left end, diving into the end zone for the 7-yard touchdown run and the win.
“We ran it twice before (in the game) and it wasn’t very successful,” Jones said. “I told coach Hanna on the sidelines ‘put your confidence in me and let me run the toss one more time.’”
Hanna never hesitated.
“When we called the play, Peyton said he wanted the ball,” Hanna said. ‘When a kid says he wants the ball and can get it in, I’m going to give him the opportunity.”
Ball said once the defense stopped Noxapater in the first overtime, he knew things were in his team’s favor.
“I felt like once we stopped them, we were going to win,” Ball said.
“It was one of those games that is why you get into coaching,” Hunter said. “We would have liked to be on the other end of it, but it makes you want to coach. It was a great game and a great atmosphere and both teams just played their behinds off.”
While there were several key offensive plays in the game, it was defense that turned the tide for the Warriors. Twice Nanih Waiya forced Noxapater to turn the ball over on downs, while twice recovering fumbles in their own territory and twice picking off passes.
“Defense won the game,” Hanna said. “The defense just played outstanding. That was the first game we have played a full four quarters all year and that was what it took.”
Jamarlo Smith led Nanih Waiya in rushing with 125 yards on 24 carries, while Stewart Ball hit on 7-of-13 passes for 82 yards, Jones had three catches for 14 yards, Wyatt Ball two for 54 yards and Isaiah Eiland had two for 14 yards.
Jones had three rushes for 33 yards and also had a pair of huge punts, once pinning Noxapater back at the one-yard line and another time at the five.
Vonte Woods led Noxapater with 143 rushing yards on 14 carries, while Robertson had 24 attempts for 132 yards.