Tonight: Corinth (6-4) at Winona (9-1), 7 p.m.
Read more about the high school football playoffs in Friday’s Daily Journal.
Jimmy Mitchell knew Damien Hughes would be good at wingback. What Corinth’s head coach didn’t guess was how good Hughes would be at tailback.
Because of an early season injury to starter Hubert Crawford, who’d rushed for 460 yards in four games before a bad back sidelined him, Hughes was forced to move behind the quarterback. The fleet 6-foot, 185-pound senior has responded with 1,111 yards and 17 touchdowns, most of that over the last five games.
But he’s not just a runner. “His blocking has improved 200 percent,” Mitchell said. “I told him, ‘There are 100 backs in Mississippi that can run fast, and out of 100, there might be 10 that can block, too. If you are in that category, you’ve got a chance to go farther.’”
Corinth hopes to go farther than just the first round of the Class 3A playoffs. Winona offers a tough challenge, but the Warriors believe they can win. In fact, they are demanding victory of each other.
Following a 33-27 overtime loss to Ripley on Sept. 28, the team had a “come-to-Jesus meeting,” as Mitchell called it, in the dressing room. “The kids said, ‘Enough of this, we know we’re better than this.’”
Corinth has won five straight since the revival, and Hughes is a big reason. During the streak, he’s gained 922 yards and scored 15 TDs.
“I’d like to take credit for coaching it,” Mitchell said, “but it’s just kind of clicked. He sees the openings there and has figured out how to get his shoulders turned toward the hole.”
Hughes’ improvement has been paralleled by Corinth’s. Mitchell said he recently watched film of his team’s loss to Senatobia in Week 1 and then compared it to a more recent tape.
“It’s like we’re not the same team,” he said. “We’re running the same plays, we’re just more smooth and efficient. That’s because of experience.”