By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
To a person without knowledge of MHSAA Class 1A football, Friday night’s Region 3-1A opener between French Camp and homestanding Noxapater may not look like much on the surface. It would be a good idea to dig a little deeper.
While the two teams head into Friday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Leon Burton Field with a combined record of 1-5, there is a lot at stake for both squads.
“For a game being played so early in the season, this one has major playoff implications,” said Noxapater head coach Justin Hunter. “Whoever loses this game still has a chance to have a good season and do well in the playoffs, but it will make it real hard to win the division.”
Neither Hunter nor FCA head coach Nathan Wright would go so far as to say this game was for the top spot in the league, but both know the importance of the contest.
“There are more than just two good football teams in this region,” Hunter said. “They will be six teams fighting hard for the four available playoff spots. So every game matters.”
“Noxapater is not the team you really want to open your district schedule against, but it is what it is,” Wright said. “You have to play them sometime, so it may as well be now.”
Going into the season most pundits had Noxapater and French Camp tabbed as the teams to beat in the region, and some even picked French Camp — which played for the MHSAA Class 1A State Championship in 2012 — to win the title in 2013.
That’s why the fact the two teams having only one win between them heading into week four may have the casual observer a little confused.
There really shouldn’t be much confusion. The level of competition the two teams have played has been stout.
Class 2A power Eupora owns wins over both Noxapater (34-6) and French Camp (51-31), while the Panthers’ other two losses have come to a pair of 3A teams. FCA dropped a 21-16 decision to newly consolidated Choctaw County High School in the season opener and lost to a rejuvenated Kemper County program 26-24 last week.
After losing its opener to Eupora, Noxapater lost a heartbreaker to Class 2A East Webster 20-19 in week two. Last week the Tigers jumped out to a 38-0 halftime lead over Class 1A Vardaman before cruising to a 44-6 win.
“I think that game helped us some,” Hunter said of the road win over Vardaman. “We were able to put that tough loss the week before (to East Webster) behind us and it gave us a little momentum going into this week.”
The Tigers led 26-0 after one quarter of play. Vonte Woods opening the scoring with a 21-yard run and a 20-yard interception return. Other first quarter scores came on a 24-yard pass from Tyrell Carter to Keontae Daniels and a 19-yard interception return by Trevara Miller.
Noxapater’s second quarter scores came on an 18-yard touchdown run by Woods and a 2-yard run by Chris Johnson. Carter had an 8-yard scoring run in the second half.
Carter completed 6-of-10 passes for 90 yards, while rushing for 29 yards on four carries. Justin Robertson had four catches for 56 yards and Daniels had three for 37. Woods rushed for 86 yards on nine carries, while Johnson had 11 attempts for 40 yards.
Miller had a huge game defensively for the Tigers with nine tackles, two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown. Johnson was credited with nine tackles and a sack, while Austin Snow had eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.