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Starkville beats Clinton to clinch district title

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Sometimes you have to create your luck. 

 

If the Starkville High School football team was going to have any Friday night, it had to do it for itself -- the first three quarters proved that. Starkville coach Chris Jones chose a fake punt on fourth-and-6 with less than nine minutes in the game to create that luck. 

 

KJ Lawrence taking the run for 21 yards to set up a touchdown on the next play that erased 40 minutes of misfortune in 15 seconds. 

 

Just as a shot at the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, District 2 championship looked bleak, Lawrence's run triggered a flurry that sent Starkville to a 21-15 victory against Clinton. 

 

The win helped Starkville (10-2, 6-1 district) secured the district's top seed for the playoffs and home-field advantage for Starkville's 30th postseason appearance. 

 

Starkville will play host to Southaven, a former district opponent Starkville hasn't played since 2010, in the first round. 

 

Lawrence didn't like his odds on the fake punt, even after admitting the Yellow Jackets had practiced the play every day in practice. 

 

"We've been waiting on that opportunity all season," Lawrence said. "Bad thing about, they knew what was coming. They called it out before the play, '26 (Lawrence) going to run the ball.' " 

 

Clinton's ability to figure out what Starkville was going to do continued the Yellow Jackets' bad luck. Starkville had three interceptions slip through its fingers and it lost three fumbles in the first 15 minutes. A holding penalty also negated a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. 

 

Lawrence's run changed it all. After the 21-yard gain, quarterback Malik Brown threw a screen pass that Cam Hines turned into a 30-yard touchdown to give the Yellow Jackets the lead. 

 

"That was a game-changer," Lawrence said. "We needed that." 

 

It was a much needed breather for a defense that had kept Starkville in the game despite adverse circumstances. After defending starting quarterback Hunter Hulsey for the first half, an injury brought backup Walker Burchfield into the game. With Burchfield in the game, Clinton showed an option play in which the running back runs toward the outside and the quarterback has the option to keep the football for an inside run, a look Clinton (5-6, 3-4) didn't use with Hulsey. It took Starkville most of the second half to adjust to it and the plays that branch from it, but it ultimately did. 

 

Burchfield led a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter that moved the Arrows yards from the tying touchdown. Facing first-and-goal at the 4, Starkville produced two tackles for a loss before Zach Edwards and Abdias Simpore stopped a fourth-down option that preserved the win. 

 

"That's Starkville defense," Jones said. "That's the definition of who we are. If they have to win it for us from here on out, I'm fine with it. Whatever it takes." 

 

The defense did more than give its offense ample opportunities to take the lead. At times, it also served as the set-up man. Four plays after Hines' go-ahead touchdown, Edwards recovered a fumble and returned it 36 yards to the 8. On the next play, the Brown-to-Hines connection produced its second touchdown and an eight-point lead. 

 

The end didn't come without stress. The goal-line stand left Starkville with 1 minute, 34 seconds to kill, but a Clinton timeout complicated matters. In an effort to take a few seconds off the clock, Jones elected to take a safety on fourth down that cut the lead to six with four seconds left. 

 

Clinton had no choice but to turn its kickoff return into a lateral-laden, last-ditch effort, one that ended when an errant pitch hit the ground and bounced to safety Corbin Grantham, who grabbed it as he slid to the ground. 

 

For once, Starkville had created its luck. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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