But how did they get there from a troublesome beginning?
The 2017 Warriors have been a team in transition from the get-go as second-year head coach Todd Lowery, his assistants or his players never gave up hope in a system that has been clicking on a much higher level since a week four loss to Itawamba AHS.
Yes, you read that correctly: the turnaround began in a loss.
You could make the argument that Corinth began to turn the corner a week earlier in a 35-21 road win at Center Hill, the Warriors initial win of the season, and you’d make a good point.
But the talent level for the Mustangs is relatively low for a 5A school and they finished the season a dismal 1-10. Their lone victory came in a Week 7 20-9 win over Saltillo, but they gave up 40 or more points in six different contests. Nine times this year, Center Hill surrendered 35 points or more.
But it was still a win over a larger program, and that in and of itself instilled some long overdue confidence in a young Warriors team.
The hard thing to overcome was the everyday fans lack of familiarity with the Wing-T offense Corinth runs.
“Pretty much all of last season was like training camp,” Lowery said. “I didn’t get hired until June, well after spring practice, so we were already at a disadvantage just because of that. It takes some time to install and learn a new system and run it at a high level.”
Lowery and the Tribe missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999, former coach Jimmy Mitchell’s second season at CHS. But Mitchell’s teams would begin a string of 16 straight playoff appearances the very next season that would extend on through the Doug Jones era.
Lowery heard the rumblings of fans and supporters when Corinth failed to qualify for the post-season in 2016, but his determination to prove that his system would work, if given its due time, was rewarded this season when the Warriors played for the Division 1-4A championship in the season finale against Senatobia.
Despite losing 28-21 to the Warriors from Tate County in a game where two key turnovers at the most inopportune of times likely cost them the division crown, Corinth was still in the show.
“Yeah, we all heard the talk about he’s (Lowery) the coach that broke the playoff streak, and it didn’t set well with me at all,” Lowery continued. “It’s not that I was upset with our fans or anyone, but the fact I was the coach of the team that failed to make the post-season didn’t make me happy at all. But I knew that if people would give us a chance to keep improving and show what we could do, that our guys would prove last year was only a blip on the radar.”
Corinth was involved in only one game where the wheels came off and they didn’t have a chance: their Week 2 48-0 home loss to Tupelo. But the Golden Wave whipped up like that on several larger teams as the season progressed and were constantly ranked among Mississippi’s top three teams the entire year.
The Shannon game got away early, although CHS did a good job of slowing down the passing game of the Red Raiders in the second half of the 28-14 loss.
Fast forward to Week 4, Sept. 15, at Warrior Stadium II. Itawamba grabbed a lighning-quick 9-0 lead following a safety on Corinth’s first possession followed by a 68-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kickoff. Another quick touchdown on their next drive, and the Indians had molded a 16-0 lead not even halfway through the first quarter — eerily similar to how the Warriors playoff win against Pontotoc transpired last week.
From that point, the Tribe outscored Itawamba 21-13 and outgained them in the contest by 178 yards.
“That was the beginning of our turnaround and when we started to finally click on offense and defense,” Lowery said.
Corinth followed that narrow defeat with consecutive wins against Kossuth (26-15), Byhalia (34-15) and Tishomingo County (57-13).
The Warriors hosted Ripley in Week 8 hoping to keep their hot streak going. Despite leading most of the game, CHS watched in agony as the Tigers converted a late field goal to claim a 30-28 win. The kick was actually tipped by middle linebacker Carter Bonds but still managed to flip-flop through the uprights.
Corinth bounced back in a big way the following week with a dominating 41-20 win at New Albany before Senatobia arrived for the game that would ultimately decide the division title.
The Warriors’ playoff journey began with a low-scoring and hard-fought 14-7 win at former Big 8 foe Clarksdale in a game that turned into a defensive struggle. Jon D Warren intercepted a late Wildcat pass to seal the victory and reward Corinth with a home playoff game against Pontotoc, the third-ranked 4A team in the state coming in.
If you were there or listened to the game on the radio, or read it here in the Daily Corinthian sports pages, you are now aware that the Warriors staged one of the most dramatic comeback post-season wins in program history by rallying from a 21-0 first quarter deficit to defeat the visiting Warriors 27-24 on a last second 32-yard Michael Baugus’ field goal.
Now it’s on to Round 3 — the quarterfinals.
The opponent will be 4A powerhouse Noxubee County, and the game will be at Macon.
The Tigers began the 2017 season 2-4 with all of their losses coming to highly-ranked and current playoff teams. They dropped decisions to top-ranked West Point (5A), top 10-team Starkville (6A), Mississippi powerhouse Meridian (6A) and Louisiana’s fifth-ranked team West Monroe, which is still unbeaten at 11-0.
Noxubee County is on a six-game win streak and enters this week’s contest coming off impressive playoff wins against Amory (48-26) and Yazoo City (39-0).
Corinth will once again be huge underdogs and a loss to the Tigers wouldn’t shock or disappoint any fan at this point. Another upset win, on the other hand, would propel the Tribe into a realm it hasn’t seen since 2002 when it lost to Amory in the North Half finals.
I have watched these youthful Warriors improve and grow as a team both on the field and off. Lowery and his staff have done a remarkable job with these players in the weight room, and it’s very obvious when you watch them play. They are a well-conditioned and resilient team that refuses to roll over and play dead.
Some may question Lowery’s play-calling and decision-making, but no one can argue with the results and where Corinth is right now. With only five seniors who start, these Warriors could be primed to take the next step in 2018 and claim the division title and possibly make a strong run at a state championship game appearance.
No matter what happens this week, it’s been a good year for the Corinth Warrior football team.