St. Joseph no longer has its Division I-bound running back duo of Dillon Johnson (Mississippi State) and Trey Benson (Oregon). Nor do the Fighting Irish have their state-best winning streak, snapped earlier this season at 27 games by Greenville Christian.
But the three-time defending champions will still have plenty of explosive talent when they visit top-ranked Carroll Academy on Friday in the highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s MAIS Class 3A semifinals.
St. Joe denied the Rebels a trip to the championship game last season thanks to a late touchdown catch by Kaleb Lockett that gave the Irish their first lead of the game, 20-18, with three minutes left. Lockett returns for his senior season as the top target for quarterback Mekhi Norris, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound dual threat with offers from Southern Miss and Grambling State.
“He’s got a cannon for an arm and he can scramble all over the place,” St. Joe head coach John Baker said of Norris. “He’s a big guy, too, he can turn it up field and run. So he is a complete weapon.”
Norris missed most of the year with a broken collarbone, but returned in last week’s 42-7 rout of Sylva Bay Academy.
“(Norris) just came back last week, only played for a half and threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns,” Baker said. “We took him out then because we had control of the game.”
Seven different Irish receivers caught passes last week, a sign of their depth out wide. Sophomore Jerrian King has emerged as a dangerous scoring threat with 17 catches for 381 yards and a team-high six touchdown receptions.
Greenwood High transfer Omar Emmons has done a bit of everything for St. Joe en route to earning the District MVP honor. The two-way senior star has racked up more than 1,061 rushing yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns on 10-plus yards per carry. Emmons has also spent time at quarterback (173 passing yards) and receiver (four catches, one touchdown) while remaining a stalwart at safety.
“They’re going to spread the ball around, especially with Mekhi Norris back healthy at quarterback,” Carroll head coach Bo Milton said. “It’s like Air Raid, SWAC, backyard football all rolled into one.”
The Rebels’ secondary will need to step up to the challenge again after shutting down Sammy Feaster and Glenbrook last week, 42-16. The 16 points allowed marked a season-high for Carroll’s defense, which has surrendered just 69 total points all year. Friday night figures to be the toughest test yet for top cornerback Noah Beck (two interceptions last week), senior safety Braxton York (one interception last week) and the rest of the Rebels’ stout defense.
“It’s a little different this week — it’s vertical,” Milton said of the defensive matchup. “Just down the field, let’s see how far I can throw it. And then if the quarterback starts scrambling, the receivers will break off their routes and move with him. They do a good job with that, so we’ll have to stay sound and have good eye discipline.”
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