STARKVILLE — The dark days for Starkville Academy seem so long ago.
When coach Jeff Terrill took over the Volunteers program, Starkville Academy was coming off a winless season.
Now, just three years later, Starkville Academy will be playing for its second straight Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 2, Division II championship.
The Volunteers (5-4 overall, 2-2 district) play East Rankin Academy (5-4, 1-3) for the title for a second straight year.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Pelahatchie.
“This is an exciting time for our program,” Terrill said. “When the season starts, the No. 1 goal is to win the district championship.
“That is why you lift weights, run laps and watch film. From the beginning of the season, the focus is winning that championship.”
The district winner will host a first-round Class AAA, Division II playoff game on Nov. 3. A win in that game would send the squad to the state championship game for a second straight year.
“We are really looking forward to this game,” Starkville Academy senior running back/safety Zach Slaughter said. “I know we will be ready. I hope East Rankin will be ready. Everybody is looking forward to the game, so you want it to be a good game with each team doing their best.”
Last season, the Volunteers won 10 games, including an 18-7 win over East Rankin, again for the district title.
This season has been quite different. The Volunteers struggled through early adversity and had more bumps in the road than expected.
Starkville Academy will carry a 5-4 overall record into Friday night’s contest.
Despite the roller-coaster ride, all that matters is the football game that is on this week’s schedule.
“We had some new faces on our offensive line this season,” Starkville Academy senior wide receiver/free safety Austin Miles said. “It took a little while to get everybody going in the right direction.
“I really feel like we are peaking at the right time.”
Starkville Academy may have played one of its most complete games in last Friday’s 41-7 non-district win over Winston Academy.
The Volunteers scored on seven of eight possessions, forced three turnovers and did not commit a penalty.
“It was really good to see great focus like that,” Terrill said. “It was Homecoming, so there were a lot of distractions.
“It was good to see us come out and be ready from the opening snap.”
Quarterback Drew Pellum rushed for two touchdowns and threw another one to Miles. Joel Ray and Colby Runnels had the other touchdowns, while Johnathon Burton kicked two field goals in the win.
West Oktibbeha (7-1, 5-0)
at East Oktibbeha (2-6, 1-4)
The Oktibbeha County Super Bowl is set for a 7 p.m. start Friday night in Crawford.
West Oktibbeha is attempting to remain in a three-way tie for first place in the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s Class 1A, Region 3 standings. East Oktibbeha needs a win to keep postseason hopes alive.
“The game is a rivalry game so it is very important,” West Oktibbeha coach Adam Lowrey said. “At the same time, we have a lot more riding on the outcome.
“Our goal is host a first-round playoff game. To do that, we can’t have any slip-ups in the region.”
Pelahatchie is 6-0 in region play. West Oktibbeha and Noxapater each follow with 5-0 marks. After the contest with East Oktibbeha, West Oktibbeha ends the season with each of the heavyweights.
A split of the two most likely means hosting in the first round. A sweep would mean winning the region championship outright.
“This football team has really grown and matured a lot this season,” Lowrey said. “We have all of our goals right here in front of us.”
West Oktibbeha won its fifth straight with last Friday’s 44-8 region win over West Lowndes.
Senior running back Tiberias Lampkin paced the Timberwolves with 30 rushes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Lampkin has four 200-yard and seven 100-yard rushing games this season.
“He understands the mentality of being a team leader,” Lowrey said.
Meanwhile on the other side of the county, East Oktibbeha struggled with a young football team.
The Titans have lost three straight but could put a charge in its slim playoff hopes by pulling the upset.
“We will have to play better in all phases,” East Oktibbeha coach Randy Brooks said. “We have really struggled to get stops the last couple of weeks and we are now playing another great offense.”
East Oktibbeha has dropped back-to-back region games to the powerful duo of Noxapater (48-6) and Pelahatchie (56-16).
West Oktibbeha won last season’s meeting, 40-14 and has won five straight overall in the series.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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