Starkville Academy coach Jeff Terrill appreciates the excitement that suddenly surrounds his football team.
Buoyed by a 33-7 victory against Heritage Academy last week, Starkville Academy (2-0) will try to match last season”s win total at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Magnolia Heights at J.E. Logan Field.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is the enthusiasm,” Terrill said. “There were some doubters when the season began. Now, the students, the teachers, everyone is beginning to be excited again. There is a very satisfying feeling.
“However, the hard work begins now. We have to keep this thing going.”
Terrill, the former coach at Itawamba Community College, took on the task of rebuilding the Volunteers a season ago. After going winless in 2009, Terrill”s first team won three games and, in the process, snapped a 20-game losing streak. This season, the Volunteers are unbeaten and have outscored opponents 71-10.
“Our focus is really hard on the defensive side of the ball,” Terrill said. “Even though we have only allowed 10 points, there were too many missed assignments. Heritage has some really skilled athletes. For whatever reason, they weren”t able to take advantage of our lapses.
“We are playing physical. We are being aggressive and flying to the ball. Those things are good. However, we have to do better job with technique. We have to a do a better job with assignments and having the right person in the right place at the right time. Those things should gradually improve.”
Starkville Academy forced four turnovers in its victory against Heritage Academy in Columbus. The Volunteers also forced a fourth-down turnover on downs. Terrill noted the strong play of lineman Collin Stokes (11 total tackles, including three for loss) and cornerback Brandon Sharp (two interceptions).
“We have some real leaders on the defensive side of the ball,” Terrill said. “The work effort has been very good. We have come a long way on that side of the ball. The key now is working hard to get better at assignment-to-assignment football.”
The defense may be in for its toughest challenge. Magnolia Heights is led by quarterback Jamel Newsome. Even though Newsome is listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, Terrill said his speed and ability to shift in the open field makes him a dangerous threat.
“Magnolia Heights has always been well-respected,” Terrill said. “They have multiple defenses, and on offense they run the spread from multiple formations. They have good speed and good quickness. It will be the biggest challenge our defense has faced. The fact they are more wide open makes it more important for the defensive players to stay home and execute their respective assignments.
Magnolia Heights lost to Marshall Academy 36-13 in its home opener. Last week, Magnolia Heights defeated Kirk Academy 31-20. Starkville Academy also has topped the 30-point mark in each of its wins. The Volunteers defeated St. Andrew”s 38-3 at home in its opener.
“We have had a great determination to have success on the ground,” Terrill said. “The line has done a great job and our backs have run the ball well. The key to our offensive success is we have had long drives and kept the ball away from the other team.”
The Volunteers have rushed for 643 yards in the first two games. Against Heritage Academy, fullback Ryan Mann ran 19 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Drew Pellum ran 17 times for 99 yards and three touchdowns. The ground game allowed the Volunteers to erase an early 7-0 deficit.
“Drew does not have those high-profile numbers,” Terrill said. “However, he leads the team and does a great job of putting us in the right play at the right time.”
The Volunteers have made the right play numerous times through two games, which has Terrill optimistic the success can continue.
“I never had any real thoughts of whether we would be 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2,” Terrill said. “I did know the type of effort that this team could produce. The enthusiasm is real high. The kids deserve it, too. They have worked very hard to get to this point.”
Starkville Academy won last season”s meeting, 34-22.
North Pontotoc (2-0) at East Oktibbeha (2-0)
East Oktibbeha County High School coach Randy Brooks doesn”t spend a lot of time working math problems. However, he does offer one statistic which is quite a gem.
“North Pontotoc has more people on its football team than we will have in our graduating class,” Brooks said.
The Class 1A Titans will place its unbeaten streak on the line against the Class 4A Vikings at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Crawford.
“This is a very good challenge,” Brooks said. “We have already played a Class 2A opponent. Now, we are playing a Class 4A opponent. This will get us ready for our Class 1A competition inside region play. That is why we are playing the game. It is a challenge, but it gives us a chance to compete against a really good team.”
The challenge may be even steeper than first thought. When the game starts, the Titans may be without Jamarquiz Page, Arthur Gillespie, and Terrence Rice. They were ejected from last Friday”s 54-0 win against McAdams.
The Titans led 46-0 at the time of a skirmish midway through the third quarter. The ejection has led to a two-quarter suspension for each player for the North Pontotoc game.
“We have appealed (the suspension),” Brooks said. “There were no punches. No players left either bench. It was a very minor flare-up. Hopefully, the MHSAA will review the situation and we will win the appeal.”
The suspensions could leave the Titans could with 16 players at kickoff.
Aside from the altercation, the Titans had no problem posting their second victory.
“We entered the game wanting to establish the run,” Brooks said. “We were able to do that. Defensively, the kids played great. We saw a lot of improvement from the first game to the second one.”
East Oktibbeha rushed for 252 yards and led 46-0 at halftime. The Titans rushed for six of the seven touchdowns in the first half. Brooks credited the strong offensive performances of backs Justin Williams and James Brown as being keys.
Defensively, Justin Williams, Juwan Roberts, and Brown anchored a unit that forced seven turnovers.
North Pontotoc also is 2-0 after wins against Ripley (54-21) and Mantachie (47-9). Against Ripley, Mitchell Cunningham had 169 all-purpose yards and three rushing touchdowns.
West Oktibbeha (2-0) has a bye week this week.
The Timberwolves remained unbeaten with a 50-30 home win against Montgomery County on Friday night. Quarterback Von Smith hit wide receiver Dwight Quinn seven times for 319 yards, including four touchdowns.
Smith finished 20 of 32 for 532 yards and five touchdowns. The Timberwolves led 34-8 at halftime.
West Oktibbeha will play host to Eupora at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.