When asked what the win meant to him, Jeffrey Simmons shared that he had dedicated the game to his young nephew.
"My sister had lost three (babies) and when my nephew was first born, I said I was going to dedicate these games to him. I chose to come out here and on every play bring relentless effort. I said that I wasn't going to stop until I won. This is my house. I was going to protect it. I am glad that we won as a team."
The "team" got the win, but without the efforts of Simmons who recorded 17 tackles, five sacks, batted down three passes, blocked an extra point and recovered a muffed point, the Tigers would not have been celebrating.
"I played well," Simmons said. "I know that I still have a lot of work to do, but my goal was to win on my home turf. This was my last first game as a player at Noxubee County High School. I just came out here to play hard."
A season ago, the Tigers opened their season with a 51-19 loss to Starkville. Noxubee County would go on to win the 4A state championship, but that early loss was something that stayed with Simmons throughout the off-season.
"This year we have come to practice and work hard every single day," Simmons said. "On the O line and D line, we said that we wanted to win in the trenches and that's what we did. Last year, we missed too many tackles on defense. Tonight we wrapped up a lot and we created a lot of turnovers on defense and that's what it takes."
Noxubee jumped out to a 20-7 lead, but the Yellow Jackets stormed back and tied the game on an impressive catch from A.J. Brown. A converted extra point would have given Starkville a 21-20 lead, but that was not to be. Simmons knifed through and blocked the one point try before it every really had a chance.
Regulation ended with the two teams tied at 20 and that special teams play loomed awfully large in what was to come.
"It was going through my head," Simmons said. "I knew it could get back in there in the backfield. It's just the ability that I got and the mindset. I trust God and I pray every night, every day. I just said 'God, let me go do it. Give me the strength to go do it'. I came off the ball and I did it."
In addition to his play as a defensive end, Simmons serves as the team's deep snapper. With big #94 racing down the field in coverage, punt returns are a bit of a gamble. One of the biggest momentum swings of the night took place when Simmons recovered a Starkville muffed punt setting up a score for his team.
"It's all about making plays," Simmons explained. "We had a good punt. Coach is always telling me to get down there, because anything can happen. When I got down there, he muffed the ball and that was what we were looking for. When he looked up, he glanced at me. I just knew something was about to happen then."
The Tigers needed a big play. At the time, Noxubee was trailing Starkville who scored pretty easily on their opening drive and held a 7-6 lead in the second quarter. Simmons reports that the Jackets were able to take advantage of some Tiger mistakes early on.
"During the delay, we went over and talked as a defense and said that we need to fix this," Simmons said. "The play that they (scored) on, we were lined up wrong. When we went into the locker room, we lined it up and wrote it on the board. We came back out and got everything right."
Noxubee County head football coach Tyrone Shorter had some encouraging words for his team during the intermission. Staked to a 14-7 lead, the Tigers knew they had a real chance to win the game.
"He told us that it was still zero to zero and that was our mindset," Simmons said. "We come out after halftime in every game like it is zero to zero. He wanted us to start back fast and just finish. That was really the main thing, just finish."
And finish they did. The Tiger defense kept Starkville off of the scoreboard in both of the game's overtime periods and held on to a 26-20 decision that went down to the final snap of the game. Simmons reports that this win is one that he will always cherish.
"I think this is one of the best games in my high school career," Simmons said. "I had that mindset tonight that I was coming in to work my tail off. This is all so personal to me and that is why I am so emotional. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to dedicate this game to my nephew. My oldest nephew is not here. He is supposed to be eight. I am supposed to be taking him and training him up to be one of us. That's why all of this is so emotional for me."
Noxubee County (1-0) will host Columbus High this week in another challenge as 2017 running back Kylin Hill and the Falcons come to Macon. Simmons has already pushed those around him to put last week's big win behind them. Last season, the Tigers won 46-7 at Columbus. CHS is a much improved team, so the Tigers will have to play well again this week to advance to 2-0.