Friday night the Fox football team and its rabidly happy fan base, affectionately known as “The Tribe,” will pack their old kits bags and travel down I-55 to Jackson.
Whether the Warriors will be wearing those same grins on the return trip remains to be seen. In a rematch of last year’s Class 5 District 1 championship game, Fox, the No. 2 seed and Jackson (No. 1) both are coming off big semifinal wins.
Fox held off a stubborn Poplar Bluff (No. 3) squad 41-26 on Friday, while Jackson raced out to a 49-0 halftime lead against Seckman (No. 4) and eventually posted a 55-14 win.
Fox lost the district championship at Jackson last year 42-23 after suffering through a disastrous first half and coughing up six fumbles. The Warriors have scored 40 or more points in their last three games.
This year, the Warriors are attempting to knock Jackson from the ranks of the unbeaten. The Indians are 10-0 and have outscored opponents by an average of 51-8. Fox comes in with an 8-2 record and looking to, as head coach Brent Tinker put it, “shock the world.”
“We’re very aware that Jackson is good,” Tinker said. “But you’re still going to have to play hard in a district championship game. And if that ends up in a great victory, that’s our goal.”
In the win over Poplar Bluff, which ended its season at 5-5, junior Chase Maxey rushed for 213 yards on 20 carries and Jahaud Thompson added 78 on eight attempts. Fox had 359 rushing yards on 42 carries. Maxey also added 24 yards receiving, on the only pass (in three attempts) that quarterback Brock Inman completed.
The defensive star for the Warriors was Carson Elwood, who had two interceptions, including one with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter, when the Mules were threatening.
Fox got on the board early, taking advantage of a kickoff by Poplar Bluff that went out of bounds. Two carries by Maxey, including one for 42 yards, and another by Thompson, set up Inman to score on a keeper from 12 yards 4:28 into the first quarter.
Poplar Bluff turned to senior running back Austin Tinsley, who carried the ball four straight times, getting into the end zone from 14 yards out with 5:19 to go in the quarter to tie the game.
Taking advantage of a Maxey fumble on the next Fox possession, the Mules took a 14-7 lead on a three-play, 32-yard drive, culminating in a short run by Damarieus Robinson. But after Elwood returned the ensuing kick 35 yards, Maxey redeemed himself, bulling his way to the Poplar Bluff 19. Thompson took it in from there and knotted the game 14-14 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
Elwood’s first pick of quarterback Kannon Carr was on the ensuing possession by the Mules. Three plays later, Maxey capped the short drive with a 25-yard scoring run with 35 seconds to go in the quarter. The Warriors increased their lead to 28-14 on an Inman sneak with 9:29 to play in the half, but Kody Ketcherside made good on a 27-yard field goal at the horn to cut the deficit to 28-17.
The Mules made things a bit sticky for the Warriors in the third quarter, again with Tinsley getting loose and eventually scoring on a 5-yard run with 6:51 to go in the third. A two-point conversion by Tinsley cut the Fox lead to 28-25. But Fox was aided on the next drive by a pair of personal foul penalties on the Mules, and a big run by Thompson, before Inman capped the drive on another quarterback sneak with 2:54 left in the third for a 34-25 lead. The PAT was blocked.
Then it was up to Elwood, with his second pick of the game, and Maxey’s second touchdown run, with 5:39 to play in the game, to send the Warriors on to Jackson.
“We’re doing enough to win, but there are still things we need to work on in practice,” Tinker said. “You’re always concerned (about letting them close the gap), but we knew our kids would right the ship. But it’s really good when you’ve got Carson Elwood with two interceptions, and big ole Chase Maxey running for over 200 yards.”
“We made some holes, and I ran through the tackles,” Maxey said. “It was definitely nice to have that kind of success on the ground. They were one of the more physical teams we’ve played, so we knew we had to step up our game.”
Elwood said Fox capitalized on every penalty and turnover and made the most of them.
“We knew we would have to play our best game and we played hard for each other,” Elwood said. “Both teams played physical, that’s for sure.”