September 14, 2013 5:34:27 PM
STARKVILLE -- Redemption was the word of the night for the Starkville High School defense.
In what was thought would be the strength of the defending Class 5A state champion program going up to Class 6A, Starkville (2-2) got back to playing its traditional defense Friday night in a confidence building 34-14 home victory over Southaven.
"I think everybody from the players to the coaches to the fans and the moms and dads needed this victory," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We had dealt with some confidence issues and question marks for two weeks and didn't need another two weeks like this again."
Starkville shut out Southaven (3-1) in the second half, forced two turnovers and had two red zone stands to secure its first home victory of the 2013 season.
"We were embarrassed last week and tonight we proved it's all about adversity," Starkville sophomore defensive lineman Maleke Bell said. "We needed this win and we needed this feeling."
Sophomore A.J. Brown, who primarily plays at wide receiver, took a interception back for a touchdown for the second straight game to secure the victory in the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets linebackers including Taylor Rodgers, Taylor Johnston and Terrance Grayer were proficient in open field tackling along with providing pressure to Southaven quarterback Shea Chism.
"That's a play where I'm using my receiver skills to know exactly where the ball should be thrown," Brown said. "It's a timing route so I figured if I jump the route, I'll pick it off. Once the ball is in the air, it's mine."
After losing two straight games because of their inability to get stops on defense and tendency to turn over the football with a inexperienced offense, Starkville Miller saw his coach worry and stew over what he thought had to change immediately before Starkville entered region play in two weeks.
"Jamie told me all week 'hey boss, I have a good feeling about this week and my defense'," Starkville Athletics Director Stan Miller said.
Starkville junior tailback Jacquez Horsley finished with a season-high 194 yards on 37 carries and two total touchdowns. Horsley, who needs the athletic speed option Darius Grayer to get healthy in the next two weeks, only had 274 yards in three games but had his career-high total overpowering against a undersized Southaven defense.
"We need to get Grayer healthy but the effort and heart that Horsley showed tonight not only allows us to do that but established the pace we wanted on offense," Mitchell said. "He was such a competitor tonight."
Chism finished the game 32 of 59 passing for 332 yards and two touchdowns. Chism led the Chargers high tempo spread option offense 80 yards for the touchdown in the first possession of the game. Starkville defensive coordinator Brooks Oakley made a change to shut down Southaven's short passing game and limit the Chargers' yards after the catch.
Instead of blitzing and sending more pass rushers to the quarterback, Starkville decided to create a bubble around the line-of-scrimmage forcing Chism to search for receivers vertically down the field that were covered brilliantly Friday night.
"We made some stops and I thought we allowed them to play only to our tempo," Mitchell said. "Southaven is such a dynamic team throwing the football but we were able to get some of our best athletes on defense to counter their speed."
Starkville was able to hold Southaven on two fourth-and-short situations where it was clear the Chargers had no short yardage package and were forced to throw for the conversions.
The Yellow Jackets offense accounted for 392 total yards and got two touchdown passes from senior quarterback Princeton Jones.
"I thought us coaches did a great job of putting him in a much better situation to succeed tonight," Mitchell said. "Princeton handled the football really well tonight for the most part."
Starkville will now have a week off before opening region play at Columbus after the Falcons easily took care of West Point 41-14.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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