VICKSBURG — The Starkville High School football team lost the battle, but won the war Friday.
Warren Central’s defense put the clamps on Starkville’s offense and allowed its offense to finish the job with an 84-yard drive — capped by a 27-yard Jade Pollack field goal — for a 12-9 victory in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 2 game.
Warren Central had to beat Starkville by 12 to win the region title, or at least by five to lock up the second seed. Despite the loss, Starkville will earn the second seed with one game to play next week at home against Clinton. It will play host to a first-round playoff game. Madison Central, which beat Northwest Rankin on Friday night, will earn the top seed. Starkville beat Madison Central 45-42 in a disputed finish on Oct. 18 in Starkville.
Despite still having a chance to play host to a first-round playoff game, the latest loss will sting the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 5-1) for a while.
“We’re not happy, and we don’t take well to losing,” Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. “But give Warren Central all of the credit in the world. They made the plays that had to be made and we didn’t.”
While Warren Central (7-3, 5-1) didn’t get the point differential it needed, the victory was all that mattered for the Vikings. The Vikings were down to their last play with six seconds remaining when coach Josh Morgan decided to go for the field goal.
“Just win the game. You’re putting yourself in a terrible gamble (with six seconds remaining), and we couldn’t do that to these kids,” Morgan said. “We thought about it for a brief second, but we wanted to win the football game, which we so deserved. The opportunity really didn’t present itself. I’m very proud and confident in our decision.”
The final drive looked to be a long shot for the Vikings, who struggled all night against the Yellow Jackets’ speed on defense. After Warren Central’s defense came up with a huge stop, returner Chris Stamps allowed Michael Godley’s punt to bounce down to the Warren Central 15-yard line.
The Vikings — who picked up a first down — were down to their last play with a little more than two minutes remaining on third-and-13 at the 24. Aaron Stamps took the handoff and appeared to be corralled before he spun out of danger, cut against the grain and moved the ball out to 40. Carlisle Koestler hit Stamps for a 14-yard screen pass as the clock ticked and scrambled on the next play for 8 more yards. He hit Stamps for two big completions, an 8-yarder to get within striking distance and a 22-yarder to set up Pollack’s game-winner.
The Vikings dominated the first half, but they converted only one of three big opportunities. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Vikings went to work, as Koestler hit Dearius Christmas on a play-action rollout and Curtis Ross had a big run down to the Starkville 9. Aaron Stamps capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, but the Yellow Jackets blocked Pollack’s kick.
A short Starkville punt put Warren Central in business at the Starkville 42 before Koestler hit Stamps on a screen for 14 yards to the 28. But a personal foul two plays later pushed Warren Central out of scoring position and it was forced to punt.
The defense also handed the offense a huge opportunity when defensive end Damon Stamps gobbled up Princeton Jones’ fumble at the Starkville 31. But after Ross had a big run down to the 11, Koestler threw an interception three plays later to end the scoring chance.
Starkville finally put a drive together thanks to two 15-yard personal foul penalties, but Warren Central’s defense held and forced the Yellow Jackets to settle for a Godley field goal as time expired to cut the lead to 6-3.
It was a different story in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets moved the ball behind the passing of Jones, who went 5-for-6 on Starkville’s first drive of the half. But the drive stalled at the 19 and Godley booted a short field goal to tie the game with 4 minutes, 15 seconds left in the quarter.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense came up with another big turnover, as Fontavious Smith intercepted Koestler and returned it to the Warren Central 10. The Vikings’ defense made another stand and forced the Yellow Jackets to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Godley that helped Starkville take a 9-6 lead.