November 8, 2017 6:53:27 PM
STARKVILLE -- Chase Nicholson laid down a challenge to his Starkville Academy football team at the beginning of the week.
The challenge is one Nicholson believes a team that has used "Nov. 18" as a motivational mantra will be able to realize.
"We have to play at a whole new level," Nicholson said.
Nicholson's expects Starkville Academy (11-1) to raise its game because it has won back-to-back games by shutout to reach the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs.
Nicholson also knows second-seeded Starkville Academy will need to be even better than the last two weeks when it plays host to third-seeded Adams County Christian School (11-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at J.E. Logan Field.
"It is certainly a good team coming our way, but we have them at our place, which is always an advantage" Nicholson said. "They have a long bus ride, which is an advantage, and we have a chip on our shoulder about last year, which is to our advantage. We just have to play a great football game."
Last week, ACCS defeated sixth-seeded Heritage Academy 42-20 in Natchez. Mj Thornburg had three of the Rebels' six interceptions, while Josh Day had two and Jacob McDaniel had one.
Thornburg also caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from McDaniel in the first quarter to provide a spark. The victory set up a rematch of last season's game, which ACCS won 35-7 in the second round. ACCS lost to Indianola Academy in the state title game.
Nicholson doesn't think the score of last year's game has been mentioned. He said everyone in the program probably remembers the game, but he said it hasn't been a source of motivation.
"I remember people saying how embarrassed we were last year and how we got embarrassed and we don't want that to happen again, but that's not really the point of emphasis," Nicholson said. "The point of emphasis is this year, and this is the game between us and where we want to go, so that's what is important."
The winner of Friday night's game will play the winner of the game between top-seeded Indianola Academy and fifth-seeded Columbia Academy at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Jackson Academy.
The Rebels (11-1) used big plays to eliminate the Patriots. Julian Wilson had touchdown runs of 27 and 47 yards in a 129-yard effort. ACCS rushed for 251 yards.
ACCS' only loss is a 38-7 setback to Presbyterian Christian on Sept. 1. The Rebels have scored 34 points or more in every game except two en route 452 for the season. They have allowed 161.
Starkville Academy, which has scored 371 points and allowed 124, is coming off a 30-0 victory against seventh-seeded Central Hinds Academy. In the first round of the playoffs, Starkville Academy shut out 15th-seeded Park Place Christian 41-0. The Volunteers have five shutouts this season.
Nicholson sees a similar ACCS to the one his team faced last season. This time around, though, he said his team is healthy. He hopes the Volunteers' depth also will work in its favor. He said a key will be his offense's ability to control the football against the Rebels to keep his defense fresh for an opponent he compares to Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) member East Webster.
Nicholson has remarked all season about the maturity of his players. That's why he doesn't feel the rematch against ACCS or being one win away from playing for a state title will be distractions. He hopes both things will be sources of focus to ensure the team has one more Sunday to get together to prepare for a game.
"We never have really looked past the week ahead, and I don't think they're planning on starting now," Nicholson said. "We have seen that the last two weeks in how they have played. They know there is no tomorrow and no guaranteed, so I think that has changed the way they approach the weeks."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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