Four Down Territory: St. Al’s Smith catches on; PCA stays ahead; Choctaws air it out; Tide bedevils Bulldogs again

Published 2:14 pm Sunday, October 1, 2023

Welcome to Four Down territory, where each week we recap four notes, nuggets or trends from the week that was in Mississippi high school football, college football and the NFL.

All things being equal, Carson Smith would rather still be throwing passes than catching them. Since he can’t do the former at the moment, he’s doing his best — and doing very well — with the latter.

Smith was St. Aloysius’ starting quarterback for the first five games of the season until suffering a shoulder injury two weeks ago. It’s limited his ability to throw the football, but he’s made a seamless transition to receiver and provided a reliable target for his replacement Sadler Lambiotte.

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Smith caught nine passes for 75 yards in a 21-0 loss to Riverfield Academy on Friday. It tied for the third-highest single-game reception total in school history. Ryan Theriot set the record of 12 in 2017, coincidentally also against Riverfield.

“I have a lot of school spirit and it means a lot to me have a good game like that,” Smith said.

Smith, a junior, has been a bright spot in a difficult season for the Flashes (0-7). He threw for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns while playing quarterback. When he could no longer play that position, however, he did not hesitate to switch to receiver.

“I played receiver last year a little bit, and then in my ninth-grade year. I just have a feel for the game. I love to be out there any way I can. It’s just a lot more running out there at receiver,” Smith said. “Anything I can to try and get a win. I’ll do anything.”

St. Al coach Bubba Nettles praised Smith’s attitude and selflessness. The Flashes have battled a wave of injuries the past two weeks that left them with only 15 healthy varsity players against Riverfield. Having Smith on the field in any capacity allowed the team to remain competitive throughout the game, even though the result did not go their way.

“His selflessness and going, ‘I’m hurt, but you need me at receiver, not a problem.’ And he shows up and shows out. You can’t ask for anything better than that. That’s a true team player right there.”

Porter’s Chapel Academy had no trouble dispatching Hillcrest Christian on Friday, 58-16, and in doing so continued a remarkable trend.

The undefeated Eagles (8-0) have only trailed for one play the entire season. That came in their toughest game so far, a 26-18 double-overtime victory against Riverdale on Sept. 1. Riverdale scored in the first overtime to take an 18-12 lead, and then PCA answered with a tying touchdown on the first play of its overtime possession before scoring again and winning in the second overtime.

PCA has also made a habit of getting in front early and limiting the amount of time it spends tied. It scored on its third offensive play against Hillcrest, on a 35-yard run by Jase Jung, and has scored on its first offensive series several times this season.

“Any time we can get out to a fast start and jump up two or three touchdowns it takes the wind out of the sails on the other sideline,” PCA coach Blake Purvis said. “That’s tough when you’re having to battle back from two or three touchdowns down in the first two or three minutes of the game, that happens quick.”

Mississippi College has stunned the Division II Gulf South Conference by introducing a revolutionary concept into its offense — the forward pass.

Quarterback Cameron Davis completed 19 of 26 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-14 victory over Shorter on Saturday. It was the first time a Choctaws quarterback has thrown for more than 200 yards since Sept. 16, 2017, when Ty Jobe had 282 against West Alabama.

Mississippi College has used a run-first — and often second, third and fourth — offense during John Bland’s 10 seasons as head coach, and only passed when absolutely necessary. The Choctaws attempted a total of 167 passes in 2022 and 100 in 2021. In their first three games this season, they were 10-for-29 for 223 yards as a team.

That has changed the last two weeks. In a 10-7 loss to West Alabama on Sept. 23, Davis was 13-of-28 for 134 yards. That was the first time since Nov. 4, 2017 vs. Shorter that the Choctaws threw more than 20 passes in a game.

Of all of Mississippi State’s Southeastern Conference opponents, few have been as frustrating for the Bulldogs to deal with in recent years as Alabama.

The Crimson Tide defeated Mississippi State for the 16th consecutive time, 40-17, on Saturday. Since State’s last win in the series, a 17-12 triumph in Starkville in 2007, this was only the fourth time it has scored in double figures.

Mississippi State’s last lead against Alabama was in the fourth quarter of the 2017 game. The Tide scored two touchdowns down the stretch to win that one 31-24 and have only allowed the Bulldogs to reach the end zone four times since then. That was also the last time MSU scored at least 10 points against Alabama.

Since Nick Saban took over as Alabama’s head coach in 2007, Mississippi State has scored a total of 15 offensive touchdowns in 17 games against the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs have been shutout twice, held without a touchdown six times, and scored seven points or less 11 times.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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