STARKVILLE — With less than a minute to play Friday, Starkville High”s Jaquez Johnson and Shaquille Hill re-enacted Joe Montana”s famous NFC Championship game pass to Dwight Clark.
On fourth-and-19 and trailing Southaven by seven points, Johnson escaped pressure, rolled right, and hit Hill in the back of the end zone. Hill made the catch in a sea of traffic and got a foot down, completing a nine-play, 78-yard drive.
As familiar as that play and drive were to the San Francisco 49ers in 1981, the final score was the same. The Yellow Jackets finished on the wrong end, though, falling 28-27 after kicker Daniel Fumo was stopped short on a fake field goal attempt.
Gutsy, or perhaps gassed from the penultimate drive of the game, Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell gave the green light to go for the win.
Without a timeout, Mitchell said there wasn”t debate about whether to line up and go for two, to go for the fake, or to kick the extra point to tie the game.
“It was hectic,” Mitchell said. “That”s a check-with-me play. If we like, we give the thumbs up and run it. If we don”t, give the thumbs down and kick it. I don”t know. It”s one of those gut things, and as a coach, you”ll live with for a long time.
“I don”t know. You just hope you don”t do something to ever take a win away from the kids. We did the best we could do.”
Starkville (5-3, 3-1 Class 6A Region 1) lost for the first time in four weeks. All of the Yellow Jackets” losses have been by a touchdown or less.
The Chargers, without two suspended defensive starters, took a 21-7 lead into the half thanks to a pair of critical mistakes by the Yellow Jackets. Defensive end Jeff Johnson picked off a Jaquez Johnson pass and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Chris Rice scored on a 34-yard run when the Yellow Jackets were caught with 10 men on the field.
“A lot of that”s on our coaching,” Mitchell said. “It weighs on you as a coach. That should never happen at this level, but that”s our job and our situation.”
Though he didn”t complete his first pass until the fourth quarter, Jaquez Johnson continued his fine form, leading all scorers with four touchdowns. The senior quarterback had 105 rushing yards on 24 carries. He also had an interception.
Johnson”s lone interception on offense was his first since a season-opening loss to Noxubee County.
Starkville, however, struggled to catch fire in the passing game as Johnson”s passes were off target. The running game, though, was there all night, as Starkville eclipsed the 200-yard mark for the fourth straight game.
Stanley Higgins saw his most extensive action in the backfield, rushing for 75 yards on 11 carries. He had one costly fumble in Southaven territory to start the second half. That miscue came two plays after Preston Baker, who played for the first time since suffering a broken jaw in Week 1, returned a kickoff 72 yards.
The Chargers answered Starkville”s 18-play, 85-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Anthony Williams. Harris” second scoring pass gave the Chargers a 28-21 lead.
Johnson took over on Starkville”s final drive, completing 2 of 3 passes for 35 yards and busting a 42-yard run up the Southaven sideline.
“Our guys aren”t gonna quit no matter the situation,” Mitchell said. “We”ve been down before. That”s just something they”ve got built into them now. I love these kids and could not be prouder. It just didn”t go our way.
“I tell you what, people got their money”s worth. That”s one thing you can say. (It was) just a great high school football game.”
The Yellow Jackets, now third in the region behind South Panola and Southaven return to the field next week at Olive Branch. Starkville”s remaining games are against South Panola and Columbus.
“Hearts broken for the kids, but we don”t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Mitchell said. “We got to go OB net week, so we got to get them picked up.”