STARKVILLE — Fourth down. Three yards from the end zone. Overtime.
Starkville Academy was that far away from its second win all time against Jackson Academy.
The Raiders opted to kick a field goal on their overtime possession to take a three-point lead, opening the gates for a dramatic finish. The Volunteers took several cracks at the end zone, even benefiting from a defensive holding call on third down, but they just weren’t able to put the ball across the line.
Head coach Chase Nicholson and the Vols had a decision to make: settle for three or go for the win. They opted to go for it on fourth down, but quarterback Briggs Bennett’s pass was just wide right of wide receiver Drew Williams, giving Jackson Academy (1-0) the 17-14 win.
“We wanted to win,” Bennett said. “We said we wanted to win. We weren’t going to tie it. We wanted to win right there.”
In the previous two meetings against Jackson Academy, the Vols (1-1) were outscored 60-7. The Raiders had won 16 of 17 all-time matchups heading into the 2022 season opener for both teams.
Friday was a much different story.
Starkville Academy had numerous chances to score and was able to exploit the weaknesses of Jackson Academy.
Despite the final score, the two teams were very evenly matched and took advantage of the opportunities they were given, even if those didn’t end up leading to points on the board.
“We got to go into overtime against a good team, and we’ve experienced overtime as a team,” Nicholson said. “We did a lot of things that are going to make us a better football team moving forward.”
The Vols’ Week 1 game came down to the wire and saw them battle and hold tough for a win against Lamar. The same was required in Week 2. This game was truly a tale of two halves, with both teams held scoreless in the first half, each missing a field goal from within 40 yards.
Jackson Academy quarterback Clayton White threw two interceptions in the half, one to Vols linebacker Camp Overstreet, who also recorded a sack late in the second quarter to stall a Raiders drive.
Halftime speeches worked but not necessarily in Starkville Academy’s favor to start out the third quarter. The Raiders pulled off a trick play, a lateral to wide receiver Foster Meacham, who threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Merritt Nations, opening up the scoring.
An Omarean Ellis rushing touchdown later in the quarter put the Vols down 14-0, but instead of folding, the team worked its way back into the game.
“We’ve just got no quit in us really,” Overstreet said. “We’ve just got to keep it up. That’s a good team that’s going to go places. That’s a good 6A team, and we’ve got a long ways ahead of us. We’re just going to get after it and go into next week.”
In the span of just a few minutes in the fourth quarter, Starkville Academy tied things up, first on a 1-yard touchdown run from Charlie Nicholas and then from who else but Overstreet, who powered through from the 1-yard line.
That came after the Vols pooch kicked and recovered their own kickoff at Jackson Academy’s 33-yard line. There was a palpable sense of tension and nervousness from both sets of fans at J.E. Logan Field, but you could feel the momentum swing in Starkville Academy’s favor after that recovery.
“The more these guys fight, the more they’re going to be able to be a force in the fourth quarter,” Nicholson said. “No game is going to be easy. Nobody wants to come watch a 4-0 ballgame. If you didn’t have a good time at this ballgame, win or lose, there’s something wrong with you. This was a great football game between two great football teams.”
In the end, the result didn’t go the way of the Vols, although some questioned the no-call in the end zone that looked like a possible pass interference/defensive holding penalty.
Penalties were plentiful in Friday’s game, but regardless of the call, overhearing Starkville Academy’s postgame huddle, the coaching staff had nothing but positive things to say about the game.
The biggest takeaway was the the Vols talking about the feeling of losing, one that they wanted the team to internalize so that they never felt it again. Having a short memory and looking forward to the next game is going to pay dividends moving forward as they continue to grow together.
“We were a team tonight, and we really grew up,” Bennett said. “I feel proud of what we did on the field.”
Starkville Academy will face Trinity Collegiate School (South Carolina) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Carrollton, Georgia.
Jackson Academy 17, Starkville Academy 14, OT
Jackson Academy (1-0) 0 0 14 0 3 — 17
Starkville Academy (1-1) 0 0 0 14 0 — 14
JA — Merritt Nations 61 pass from Foster Meacham (Andrew Harrison kick), clock 8:05
JA — Omarean Ellis 7 run (Harrison kick), clock 6:13
SA — Charlie Nicholas 1 run (Tanner McKee kick), clock 11:20
SA — Camp Overstreet 1 run (McKee kick), clock 8:09
JA — Harrison 24 FG
PASSING: Jackson Academy — Clayton White 12-22, 110; Foster Meacham 1-1, 61; Starkville Academy — Briggs Bennett 12-27, 98.
RUSHING: Jackson Academy — Omarean Ellis 14-108, Clayton White 4-34, Merritt Nations 2-10; Starkville Academy — Briggs Bennett 17-107; Charlie Nicholas 10-14, Camp Overstreet 1-1.
RECEIVING: Jackson Academy — Merritt Nations 3-76; Starkville Academy — Drew Williams 4-57, Wyatt Buice 3-29, Charlie Nicholas 2-17.
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