Starkville High School football players returned to work Monday with a little extra pep in their step.
Starkville won its home opener Friday night with a thrilling 16-14 victory against Class 6A Madison Central. It will try to make it two in a row at home at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it takes on Tupelo at Yellow Jacket Stadium.
“Kids are resilient,” Starkville High second-year coach Jamie Mitchell said. “They bounce back much quicker than us coaches. However, for coaches and players alike, it is always more fun to return to work after a win. Our attitude at practice has been great this week.”
Most coaches look for improvement from their season opener to the second week. Mitchell and his staff saw just that. After an error-plagued season-opening 33-21 loss at Noxubee County, the all-around effort proved much better against Madison Central.
“I thought we were closer to playing the way we are capable of playing,” Mitchell said. “We are a tremendously young football team. Being able to win a game like we did helps allow the kids to see a return on their investment.
“This team has worked awfully hard since the end of last season. The offseason workouts were great. Fall camp was good. Hopefully, we will be able to hit our stride before region play begins.”
While the Starkville victory motivated the Class 5A Yellow Jackets, it also made an impression on Tupelo coach David Bradberry.
“I was very impressed by the defense,” said Bradberry, whose team is 1-1. “Madison Central had a difficult time generating drives. The things that stood out to me was how hard and how physical the defensive unit played. We have been inconsistent, so this is going to be a major challenge.”
Mitchell and his staff saw the same thing in the Yellow Jackets” defense.
“The defensive effort in the second half was great,” Mitchell said. “It was far and away the most consistent effort we had on that side of the ball in a long time. We were absolutely thrilled at how the defense set the tone.”
Starkville held Madison Central to 78 yards in the second half. Still, the Jaguars had a chance at victory, but a 41-yard field goal sailed wide left with less than three minutes left in regulation.
“We were fortunate,” Mitchell said. “We had a chance early in the game to go up 21-0 but fumbled. In the second half, we struggled to have a drive. However, we did keep field position on our side. Offensively, we are still looking for a rhythm. We need more consistency on that side of the ball.”
Mitchell credited the defensive front four with swinging the momentum. Nose guard Justin Ware and tackles Jawon Johnson and Eric Rogers teamed with linebacker David Fair to lead the defense.
Gabe Myles scored on runs of 1 and 13 yards on the Yellow Jackets” first two possessions. A 24-yard field goal by Charlie Henderson in the third quarter provided the game-winning points.
Tupelo dropped a 40-11 decision to Lafayette County in its opener before bouncing back for a 23-22 win against at Center Hill. Senior quarterback Luke Hobson and senior defensive back Jaques Knowles lead the Golden Wave, who are expected to be without junior running back Ashton Shumpert. Shumpert ran for 1,328 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He is expected to miss the next couple of games after suffering a stress fracture in his leg against Lafayette County.
“Offensively, we had much more consistency in the win over Center Hill,” Bradberry said. “We are still struggling at getting everybody on the same page. We need to improve executing our assignments. To be a better offense, we have cut down on the mistakes and find more consistency.”
Mitchell said Tupelo grew up in the victory. He noted Center Hill made the second round of the Class 4A playoffs and has essentially its entire team back.
“A lot of people didn”t read much into that result since Center Hill is a new school,” Mitchell said. “They won 10 ballgames last year and moved up to Class 5A this year. That was a quality win. You could tell they played with more confidence in that game, and I would think that will carry over to our game this Friday night.”
Starkville rolled to a 47-14 victory last year.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.