STARKVILLE — The Starkville Academy football team had been pointing to a shutout for quite some time.
The Volunteers finally accomplished that feat Friday night.
Starkville Academy scored early and late to post a 14-0 Homecoming victory against Winston Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools non-district matchup at J.E. Logan Field.
“We came in with a mind-set we needed to own the line of scrimmage, and I think we did a great job of it defensively,” Starkville Academy senior lineman Trip Janssen said. “We started of slow on offense, but in the second half I think we really took over.”
Starkville Academy (3-3) allowed only one touchdown in each of its first two victories. This time, Starkville Academy was equal to all challenges against Winston Academy (1-5).
“Defensively, we just really played an outstanding ballgame against a very physical football team,” Starkville Academy coach Jeff Terrill said. “I think the biggest part was we were able to come up with two big turnovers. One was to stop a drive and the other to set up a score.”
Starkville Academy took advantage of a turnover to start the scoring. The Patriots mishandled a lateral pass play and the Volunteers recovered in the red zone. Noah Heflin scored four plays later on a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Volunteers struggled early with a string of penalties that put quarterback Houston Clark’s crew at a disadvantage throughout the half.
Still, Drew Harrell, Kirby Cox, Josh Crittenden, and Colt Chrestman were more than up to the challenge to keep the Patriots down.
Winston Academy drove past midfield twice in the second quarter, but the best threat came up empty on a fourth down stop at the Starkville Academy 34-yard line.
“I just think we’re continuing to get better (on the defensive line), and that’s what you expect,” Terrill said. “We gave great defensive effort these last few weeks, so we’re pleased with our progress there.”
Starkville Academy’s defense had to answer the bell again quickly in the third quarter. Winston Academy took the second half kickoff and moved the ball all the way down to the 8, where Harrell made sure that drive ended.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” said Harrell, a junior linebacker. “Our job is go out there and make plays. When you are only ahead by one touchdown, you can’t have any letdown, you have to be focused on every play.”
Starkville Academy then took control. The Volunteers put together two long drives that wore down the Patriots. The first drive ended in a missed 27-yard field goal. The second drive ended with a 13-yard touchdown run by sophomore Grant Wolfe.
“I thought the offensive line played a lot better in the second half,” Terrill said. “In the first half, we struggled with some penalties and lack of focus. We’re really excited about the play of Grant Wolfe. He kind of gave us a spark.”
Wolfe’s touchdown came on a third-down run and capped a 40-yard drive. This drive was set up by another key play from the Starkville Academy defense — a fumble recovery by Harrell.
A fourth-down stop at midfield helped seal the deal.
“This is a good win to build on,” Terrill said. “There are some areas where we didn’t play as well as we would have liked. Part of that is because Winston has a really fundamentally sound, physical team. We have to come back this week ready to work and keep improving. We have made a lot of progress from the beginning of the season.”
Starkville Academy will play host to Madison-Ridgeland Academy in a Class AAA, District 1 ballgame. Challenges against Heritage Academy and Jackson Academy also remain on the schedule.
“We have some really big games left,” Janssen said. “We are excited. We are playing a lot of sophomores and they keep getting better.”