STARKVILLE — Starkville High School football coach Ricky Woods spends a lot of time in August and September talking about rivalry games.
In Week 1, Woods addressed the rivalry between Starkville and Noxubee County high schools. The teams have faced each other the last few years in what has turned out to be an entertaining season opener.
But with all the bragging rights and the pride that is on the line between Starkville and Noxubee County, Starkville has an even bigger rivalry. Starkville and West Point High have been playing since 1924, which makes it by far Starkville’s biggest rivalry. That rivalry will be renewed 7 p.m. Friday when the Yellow Jackets play host to the Green Wave in The Dispatch’s Prep Game of the Week.
“A lot of people work together and we’ve been playing each other forever,” Woods said. “It’s always been a good game. Some of them are kin. The parents, the friends of these kids and the older people, they see each other every day, so this is for bragging rights.”
Starkville leads the series 68-21-4. The Yellow Jackets have won two in a row, including a 16-0 win on the road last season and a 34-3 victory at home in 2014. Nine of West Point’s 21 wins in the rivalry have come since 2004.
Chris Chambless is in his 11th season as head football coach at West Point High, so he understands the rivalry.
“It has been a great rivalry over the years,” Chambless said. “The kids always looked forward to playing Starkville. You learn where you are as a team.”
Woods said he has known Chambless for 20 years and respects him as a coach and a man. Although they are rivals, Woods said the two coaching staffs get along.
It’s not uncommon for the coaching staffs to share fellowship over some fried fish in the summer.
“That’s how close we are,” Woods said. “We want to win, but win, lose or draw, after this game we’ll be friends.”
Both teams enter the game undefeated. Starkville (2-0) beat Noxubee County 24-21 in Week 1 at home and took care of Oxford 28-16 on the road last week. West Point (1-0) had a bye in Week 1 and beat Louisville 33-13 last week at home.
Senior quarterback Clayton Knight and junior skill players Marcus Murphy and Chris Calvert lead the Green Wave. Knight, a transfer from Saltillo High, was 7 of 15 for 126 yards and one touchdown last week. Murphy, who is committed to MSU, had 99 yards rushing on nine carries and one touchdown. Calvert had 34 yards rushing and one touchdown and one catch for 19 yards.
Starkville senior linebacker Willie Gay, who is committed to Ole Miss, likes the rivalry and is ready to see some of his friends.
“I really just know Marcus,” Gay said. “We’re real close. He’s my little brother. I met Marcus last year.
“I don’t know a lot of them by name, but I know a lot of them from pee wee football or basketball or just because they live right down the road.”
Gay said knows how explosive West Point’s offense can be. He said the Yellow Jackets this week in practice to try to find ways to contain it. Woods said West Point will be the best team they have played so far.
Starkville senior Jaquez Akins earned the start at quarterback against Noxubee County, but an injury forced him out. Sophomore Malik Brown took over and started last week against Oxford. Brown, who will be the starter moving forward, is 12 of 20 for 204 yards and three touchdowns (one interception). He has 103 yards rushing on 33 carries.
Junior wide receiver Cameron Gardner is Brown’s favorite target. Gardner has seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown.
“They have speed and size, and that’s a big concern,” Chambless said.
Chambless was pleased with the way his team played in the opener, but he said there are still questions to be answered. He feels like playing Starkville will answer some of them. Woods is ready for the challenge and feels like he will get a better gauge of where his team is.
Woods expects there to be a great atmosphere because West Point fans will make the short trip and Starkville fans will be out in full force to support their team.
Chambless knows this one will be fun.
“Fans enjoy these types of games and players and coaches do, too,” Chambless said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.