LOUISVILLE — JeJuan Davis was ready.
The Starkville High School football team had practiced blocking field goals all week, with the senior defensive back playing a big role.
The team’s rallying cry? “Go get it, Juju,” referring to Davis’ nickname.
On Friday night at Louisville, Davis and the Yellow Jackets found themselves in the situation they’d prepared extensively for, ever since noticing a vulnerability in Wildcats game tape.
It wasn’t hard to predict what happened next.
“He went and got it,” Starkville coach Chris Jones said.
Davis blocked a 36-yard field goal to keep the Jackets within one score in the fourth quarter, and Starkville (4-0) soon pulled ahead for good with 1:50 to go in a 21-20 road victory over Louisville (3-1).
“That’s what great defenses do: They find a way to get big stops,” Jones said.
After Davis’ block with 5:30 left, Starkville went three and out, but a 56-yard punt by Ethan Pulliam pinned the Wildcats at their own 7-yard line. Louisville soon punted from the 2, and Starkville had a short field to work with.
Sophomore running back Courtland Cooper punched in the go-ahead score with less than two minutes remaining, and Brayden Green’s extra point put Starkville on top.
“He’s going to be really good,” Jones said of Cooper. “He has vision; he runs hard; he protects the football. He’s what you want in a running back. I’m proud of him.”
Starkville’s defense stopped Louisville one last time, never letting the Wildcats even sniff Yellow Jackets territory. Two incompletions by quarterback Xavier Hunt set up a fourth-and-6 at the Louisville 38, and Hunt ran out of bounds at the 37 to set up fourth down.
Quarterback Trey Petty downed the ball twice to run out the clock and keep Starkville unbeaten.
Petty battled a lower left leg injury suffered on a run late in the third quarter to maintain the Jackets’ perfect record.
It was nothing new for the junior; Jones said Petty was banged up in four or five Jackets wins last season.
Petty had rushing touchdowns of 5 and 4 yards in the second quarter.
“He’s a really good football player,” Jones said. “He trusts his teammates. He made plays.
“We made a few more plays than they did.”
Louisville, to be certain, had its share of big plays Friday. JaDen Triplett ran for a 59-yard score in the third quarter; only a botched snap on the extra point kept Starkville in the lead.
The second of Petty’s two interceptions in the third quarter was a 40-yard pick-six by Laterrius Haynes with 1:39 left in the period, putting Louisville in front 20-14.
Starkville jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Petty’s short scoring runs but faltered on its final defensive drive in the first half. Two roughing the passer penalties — one on a fake punt that was negated by an offsetting call on Louisville — and an offside call helped the Wildcats punch the ball in. Keyarrion Jackson scored from 1 yard out with just two seconds to play in the half.
Besides Petty’s touchdown runs and the game-winning drive, the Jackets’ offense sputtered for much of the game. Holding calls, incompletions and runs stuffed for no gain characterized the first quarter and much of the second half.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss, so I’ll take it,” Jones said.
It was almost an ugly loss, if such a thing is possible against a team of Louisville’s caliber. The Wildcats got all the way to the Starkville 16-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, leading by six and aiming to put the game away.
But when Louisville’s Ceidrick Hunt lined up south of the 25-yard line with a chance to put the Wildcats up two scores, Starkville put its field goal block into motion.
Davis came up with the football, and the Jackets came up with the win.
“That was big,” senior defensive end Eric Thomas Jr. said. “That really just brought the whole team up — offense and defense. After that, we all just came together.”
Starkville 21, Louisville 20
Starkville (4-0) 0 14 0 7 — 21
Louisville (3-1) 0 7 13 0 — 20
S — Trey Petty 5 run (Brayden Green kick), clock 8:43
S — Petty 4 run (Green kick), clock 3:39
L — Keyarrion Jackson 1 run (Ceidrick Hunt kick), clock 0:02
L — JaDen Triplett 59 run (run failed), clock 5:39
L — Laterrius Haynes 40 interception return (Hunt kick), clock 1:39
S — Courtland Cooper 6 run (Green kick), clock 1:50
PASSING: Starkville — Trey Petty 17-30, 167; Louisville — Xavier Hunt 8-24, 73.
RUSHING: Starkville — Courtland Cooper 17-52, Trey Petty 13-43, Braylon Burnside 2-26, Jaylon York 1-14, Qua Jenkins 2-9; Louisville — JaDen Triplett 16-76, Xavier Hunt 6-23, Keyarrion Jackson 2-3, Jaylin Jordan 1-2, Jykevious Goss 1-(-2).
RECEIVING: Starkville — Jaylon York 7-79, Qua Jenkins 5-64, Braylon Burnside 2-13, Cortland Cooper 1-8, Jaiden Turnipseed 2-3; Louisville — JaDen Triplett 3-48, Swahili Earby 3-20, Jykevious Goss 1-4, De’arreius Norton 1-1.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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