While fighting through his own tears, East Central senior running back Tony Brown did his best to console the teammate standing beside him as the Hornets received their second-place medals Saturday night.
Brown and the rest of the Hornets suffered a disappointing end to what had been a season of firsts for the program, losing 41-35 to Noxubee County in the Class 4A state title game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
No player had a more deflating end to the 2017 season that Brown, who was forced from the game after suffering a dislocated shoulder early in the second quarter.
He was carted off the field and taken to the emergency room at Baptist Memorial in Oxford. They were able to put his shoulder back in place, but there was no return to the field.
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Doctors rebuffed his requests to get back in the game.
“Any time you lose a kid who scored 50 touchdowns it’s going to hurt you, and it did,” East Central coach Seth Smith said. “What was encouraging as a coach was to see the fight from the young guys when they had to go in. I thought they stepped up. Credit Noxubee County, they did a great job of exposing match-up situations and found a way to win.”
Brown fell hard on his left shoulder at the end of a run and stumbled to the sideline in obvious pain.
He finished the game with 14 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
“I hate it for him,” Smith said. “He played one quarter and scored two touchdowns so he was fixing to get to showcase himself to the state and the colleges what he can do. I hate it for him, but proud of him and proud of the kids.”
Even with Brown’s night coming to an early end, East Central closed out the first half strong on an Andrew Seward interception to preserve a 28-14 lead.
Junior wingback Cameron Gray had a career game to keep the Hornets in it, rushing 13 times for 202 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 38-yard reception.
However, Noxubee County’s prolific passing game proved too much for East Central to keep up with in the second half.
Noxubee senior quarterback Armoni Clark completed 28 of 39 passes for 472 yards, three touchdowns and one interception to be named the game’s MVP.
His top two receivers had huge games with Rashed Eades catching 11 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown and Kyziah Pruitt pulling in 10 receptions for 162 yards and a score.
East Central (13-1) managed only one touchdown in the second half a – a 2-yard run by Dylan Grinsteinner at the 6:27 mark of the third quarter to take a 35-21 lead.
Noxubee County (11-4) had an immediate answer to the Grinsteinner touchdown when Jaqualyn Smith ran 96 yards for the touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.
“The kickoff return really, really hurt us because we had a two-score advantage,” Smith said. “They run that back and that kind of swung the game a little bit and we just couldn’t grab it back.”
With no Brown in the game, East Central didn’t have the same spark on offense that it had shown for much of the season.
“When he went down, that made a big difference,” Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. “We knew he was going to be tough. He’s a great running back. I hate that for that kid to get hurt in this big game.”
Noxubee County took the 41-35 lead with 3:33 remaining on a 10-yard pass from Clark to Maliek Stallings.
East Central worked its way to the Noxubee 45 on the following possession, but senior quarterback Rylee Brown was intercepted with 23 seconds remaining to end the Hornets’ chances.