November 12, 2017 12:51:04 AM
STARKVILLE -- Balance has been the foundation of the Starkville Academy football team's success this season.
From wide receivers who block to quarterbacks who share the responsibility of leading the team to a group of talented running backs that run behind a blue-collar offensive line, the Volunteers are the sum of their parts.
That's why it's fitting Starkville Academy punched its ticket to play for a state title with an effort in which offensive contributions came from so many places in a 31-0 victory against third-seeded Adams County Christian Academy in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs at J.E. Logan Field.
"We had our best week of practice this season this week," Starkville Academy senior quarterback Noah Methvin said. "It shows on the scoreboard 31-0. We just come out and play hard every game. It is no secret. You play good defense and we run the rock, and it turns into good things."
Methvin scored on runs of 3 and 7 yards, while Taylor Arnold (14 carries, 111 yards) scored on a 22-yard touchdown. William Wolfe and Raegan and Brady Richardson combined to make nine catches from quarterback Ben Owens, but all three played crucial roles blocking in the passing and running games to help Starkville Academy (12-1) set a date against top-seeded Indianola Academy (13-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jackson Academy for the state title.
Reigning Class AAA champion Indianola Academy beat fifth-seeded Columbia Academy 43-16 Friday night to set the rematch. Indianola Academy beat Starkville Academy 35-21 on Sept. 1 in Indianola.
Starkville Academy has won 10-straight games, including the last three by shutout. Arnold, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, has been a driving force in the ground game. Regardless of who has been the star of the game, that player has praised the play of the offensive line.
"The offensive line did a phenomenal job," said Owens, a senior, who threw for 82 yards. "They have always been underdogs. They are always outsized. They are so determined, and they get the job done. Taylor Arnold has run for 1,000 yards. That is because of the offensive line. They're relentless. We're so lucky to have them."
Said Methvin, "We told the offensive line it is on you. We have to be able to run the rock. Those are the best defensive backs we have played all year, but we really trusted our guys up front and we were able to run the ball enough to where it didn't matter."
Owens said the Volunteers knew the Rebels (11-2) liked to go two-high a lot and to load the box up, so he said the Volunteers had a mind-set they were going to be able to "dink and dunk" a little bit and use slants and quick hitters. He said the plays were effective enough that they opened running lanes.
When Starkville Academy threw the ball, all of the receivers did more than look to catch it.
"Perimeter blocking and getting the ball out to William Wolfe and getting around the corner, that is huge," Owens said. "That has been our offense all year. We're looking to build off it.
"They are all balanced. They're all good with the football and really reliable when it comes to the quick stuff like that. I love getting it out there. Stuff like that opens up running lanes and you're able to move people out of the box. It is so nice to have those guys out there."
Nicholson said ACCS went against what Starkville Academy thought it was going to do. Instead of taking the Volunteers out of their game plan, Nicholson said the Rebels used a scheme the Volunteers have faced several times this season. Even though they hadn't practiced against it all week, Nicholson said the Volunteers still were able to take shots downfield. They didn't complete big passes like they usually do, but he said it was enough to keep the receivers blocking and the Rebels guessing a little bit.
"We challenge them to block," Nicholson said. "We want to keep those quick screens, those bubbles, every week. They challenged us with that cover two, but we felt like we could block them. It showed that we could. Our three wideouts did a great job of blocking all night, even if there wasn't a ball being thrown."
Nicholson praised Owens for "controlling the game" and making the reads to get the Volunteers into the right plays. He said Owens' understanding of the system makes it easy for him to communicate with him so the offense can click.
"Everybody is just on the same page," Nicholson said.
Owens summed it up for his teammates after the game when he said he has dreamed of playing for a state title since he was a kid watching high-schoolers go to state championships. He said it is a "dream come true" to have another week to be with his teammates. Fittingly, he used a personal pronoun when he looked ahead to the rematch against Indianola Academy.
"We just can't wait to get out there and play for it and take one home," Owens said.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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