By SCOTTY NICHOLS
Special to The Times
CORINTH – In a contest that would determine who would remain in the driver's seat and gain the inside track to the 2013 division 1-4A title, a veteran Corinth Warrior squad managed to knock off a young group of Itawamba AHS Indians 20-9 in Alcorn County last Friday night.
The Warriors came into the game boasting a 7-1 overall record (2-0 inside division play), with their only loss coming in week two to the Lafayette Commodores.
Their record was no fluke. "They're fast," IAHS head coach Toby Collums said after the game. "They have three running backs who can absolutely fly and run very hard."
The three Corinth running backs he referred to all possess senior experience, along with the physical tools. Kyoshi Agnew, Kendrick Williams and Brice Spence gave the Indian defense fits all night long, and the three-headed monster eventually wore the unit down later in the game.
In the first quarter, the two teams swapped punts in a defensive struggle. The only points came when IAHS junior linebacker Deonte Lee bulled through the Corinth offensive front to drop Warrior quarterback Antares Gwyn in the end zone for a safety just two plays after Zach Whitaker dropped a punt at the Corinth 6-yard line.
IAHS (5-3, 2-1) maintained the 2-0 advantage until midway through the second quarter when the Indians lost a fumble just outside of their own red zone.
It was then that the grinding running game of Corinth finally caused the Indian defense to break. Williams broke loose for an 11-yard run down to give Corinth a first down at the IAHS 17 and ultimately set up a 19-yard touchdown run by Agnew following a Warrior penalty. With the extra point, Corinth led 7-2.
IAHS moved backwards on their next possession after quarterback Vijay Miller was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Hunter White managed to get the ball just past the original line of scrimmage on third and twenty, but the Indians punted the ball away from their own 25.
Spence gained 21 yards on a run on first down, and a penalty against the Indians moved the ball to the IAHS 25. From there, Spence blasted through the Indian defense for a 25-yard touchdown run to give the Warriors a 14-2 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
The Indian offense quickly responded positively on the next possession. Maybe a little too quickly.
Miller hooked up with senior wideout Tylon Ward for an 11-yard gain for a first down before Mike King took a handoff on a jet sweep and raced down the visitor's sideline for a huge 63-yard gain all the way down to the Warrior 26.
Ward caught another pass for seven yards, then White pounded his way to the Warrior 14 for an IAHS first down. Miller then dropped back and delivered a beautiful ball to King in the back of the end zone on a fade for an Indian touchdown.
Lorenzo Minto added the extra point to pull IAHS to within five points, 14-9.
Corinth took over at their own 40 with just over a minute to play in the second quarter and gave the IAHS defense a heavy dose of Spence and Williams. The pair combined for a quick 43 yards on the ground and set up a 36-yard field goal attempt for Warrior senior kicker John Michael McFall.
Corinth head coach Doug Jones and Collums each exchanged a timeout with three seconds on the clock before McFall eventually drove home the field goal to extend the Warrior lead to 17-9 at halftime.
Second half showdown
The third quarter proved to be a stalemate as neither team could put points on the board; however, Corinth managed to put together a drive that rolled over to the final period.
Agnew and Williams pounded the ball at the IAHS defense and caused them to bend enough to get the ball inside McFall's range for a 38-yard field goal that pushed the Warrior lead to 20-9.
With the clock starting to be an enemy and the Corinth defense selling out to stop the threat of a running game, Collums' offensive unit was forced to try and move the ball through the air.
The Warriors had consistently stacked eight men in the box defensively and held White and the Indian running game in check most of the night.
Corinth's defensive front harassed Miller during the final few minutes, forcing several errant throws and sacking him four times on the final IAHS possession.
The Warriors took over at the IAHS 15 with under a minute remaining and ran the clock out to preserve a 20-9 win.
"That's a good football team over there," Collums said. "They're a much better football team than they were last year. Coach Jones and his staff are doing a great job. Now, we have to put this one behind us and take care of business the next two weeks."
IAHS remains in great position to earn a homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs with remaining games at home against Pontotoc and at a struggling Tishomingo County team in the regular season finale.