JACKSON — In the shadow of his biggest victory, Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell left Newell Field in Jackson with mixed emotions.
In a 48-28 victory against Murrah High, Mitchell was thrilled to leave with an undefeated record in region play, but he was more than concerned about his team’s run defense.
One year ago, Starkville beat Pascagoula in the Class 5A state championship game to win its first title under Mitchell. This year, Starkville (7-2, 5-0 Class 6A, Region 2) was successful in its first return trip to the capital city of the Magnolia state even though it surrendered 297 rushing yards and was dominated up the middle by the Mustangs and highly recruited junior Malik Dear.
Dear, who has received scholarships offers from Ole Miss and Mississippi State, had 226 total yards of offense. The junior speedster had a touchdown rushing, throwing, and receiving. He also was the Wildcat quarterback for the second half.
“I wasn’t concerned about our defense a week ago, but after tonight I promise you the red flags and sirens are out for us,” Mitchell said. “Dear can make plays for you at any point of the football game, but there’s times we were in position to even have a chance on defense. That has to get fixed quickly.”
Starkville senior quarterback Princeton Jones did his part to help the defense. He was involved in all seven of his team’s touchdowns Friday night. Jones, a converted wide receiver who has 19 touchdown passes, threw for two scores and had five 1-yard scoring runs.
“You look at him and you have to say he’s been the major factor to why we’re able to do what we do on offense,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of our captains, and there’s nobody I think on our offense that’s played better than him in the last several weeks.
In the second half, junior tailback Jacquez Horsley excelled in a physical run game to the tune of 107 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown catch. Starkville had only two first downs in the first half but led 22-16 at halftime.
“It was so critical for us to answer each and every one of their scores with our offense,” Jones said. “On the times where our defense got us turnovers, we cashed them in and that was the difference.”
For the first time since the first quarter of region play, Starkville trailed to a division opponent after a long snap over punter Michael Godley’s head resulted in a safety and a 16-14 deficit.
Starkville answered with a defensive stop and a 32-yard touchdown strike on a jump ball to AJ Brown with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first half.
“Like I’ve always said, if I put the ball in the air I just expect my guys to always go get it,” Jones said. “I thought we did a good job of getting the momentum back each and every time we got the ball.”
If Starkville defeats Warren Central (6-3, 4-1) on the road next week, the Yellowjackets will clinch the top seed in Class 6A, Region 2 before the regular season finale.
“It’s a absolute must win situation for us next week and there’s no debate on that,” Mitchell said. “We know the stakes and what’s on the line. We have everything in front of us.”
n Madison Central 13, Columbus 0: At Madison, the Jaguars used three scoring drives to ease past the Falcons in a hard-fought, well-contested Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 2 game.
Columbus fell to 4-5 and 2-3 in region play. It will close the regular season by traveling to Murrah (Nov. 1) and playing host to Warren Central (Nov. 8). Columbus most likely will need to win both games to advance to the playoffs for a second-straight season.
n Heritage Academy 14, Starkville Academy 10: At Columbus, the Patriots (8-2, 3-2 Class AAA, District 1, Division II) made a defensive stand with 90 seconds remaining in the game and the Volunteers with a first-and-goal at their 10-yard line.
Hunter Anderson scored on a 1-yard run for Heritage Academy. Quarterback Austin Fitch connected with Parker Short on a 21-yard scoring pass.
Colt Crestman’s 1-yard plunge and Johnathan Burton’s 22-yard field goal accounted for the scoring for the Volunteers (3-6, 1-4).
n Deer Creek 28, Immanuel Christian 26: At Steens, Fourth-quarter heroics fell just short for K.C. Cunningham and the Rams, as they scored two touchdowns in the final quarter in their loss to the Warriors.
“Tonight was the most emotional, the hardest I’ve seen this team play since I’ve been here,” Immanuel Christian coach Greg Watkins said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a group than this.”
In a back-and-forth battle, special teams was the deciding factor. Immanuel Christian got a fourth-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown from R.J. Deloach, but the Rams’ extra point attempt was blocked, keeping the game tied. When Deer Creek scored later in the quarter and converted its two-point attempt, Immanuel Christian couldn’t keep pace. Their two-point attempt failed and the Deer Creek defense provided a stop late in the game to preserve the victory.
n Leake Academy 35, Oak Hill Academy 0: At West Point, the seniors of the Leake Academy Raiders football team closed their varsity careers with an undefeated district record Friday after a flawless beatdown of the Oak Hill Raiders.
Leake Academy (6-3, 4-0 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA, District 2) struck with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Alex Shepard to Jacob Roberson on fourth-and-9 and nine seconds before halftime. The play gave the Rebels a 14-0 halftime lead.
The Rebels continued to pound the ball, mostly with powers and leads to the right side of the line, and scored on their first three possessions of the second half.
Joshua Jones scored three touchdowns for Leake Academy.
Oak Hill (5-4, 2-2) was held scoreless for the first time this season, and for the second straight year by the Rebels. Oak Hill lost 42-0 at Leake last season.