STARKVILLE — The Starkville Academy football team could have called it quits after three consecutive losses and a halftime deficit in Friday night’s matchup against Pillow Academy.
But coach Chase Nicholson’s players fought hard to prove that they could compete and ultimately walked off the field with a 25-12 victory.
“They came to work with a great attitude,” Nicholson said. “We had the best week of practice we’ve ever had.”
Charlie Nicholas sealed the deal for the Volunteers halfway through the fourth quarter. The running back took off for a 50-yard score to push his team’s lead from six to 13 points.
That wasn’t his only big score of the night: Nicholas also helped put Starkville Academy on top for the first time in the matchup earlier in the quarter. As Pillow’s punter struggled to get his kick off from deep in Mustangs’ territory, a swarm of Vols led by Ben Lyle took him down and regained possession in the red zone. Nicholas punched the ball in for a 1-yard score just moments later, and the following two-point conversion was good.
The sweet cruise to victory for Starkville Academy couldn’t come without some bumps in the road to start the game. Quarterback Briggs Bennett tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown with 10:13 remaining in the first quarter to put the Volunteers behind early. Another interception just a few plays later was not as costly, but it swung momentum against the home team.
Bennett redeemed himself with a little more than a minute remaining in the third quarter. The signal-caller held on to the football and ran 7 yards for Starkville Academy’s first touchdown of the night. The score and the extra point that followed helped put the home team within two points. Bennett finished the night with six completions on 11 passes for 61 yards and two interceptions.
SA made up for those early turnovers by forcing one of its own late in the game. As Pillow was fighting its way downfield in hopes of making a massive comeback late in the third quarter, senior Beckett Lesley secured an interception to put the final nail in the coffin.
Both teams saw solid performances from their kickers throughout the entirety of the game. In fact, field goals played a huge difference in the final score. Lawson Harvey of the Mustangs nailed two longer field goals on the evening, one coming with a few seconds left before halftime due to a fumbled punt and the other with 5:46 left in the third quarter. Rett Keenum added a short field goal halfway through the second quarter to account for the Volunteers’ first points in the matchup.
Defensively, quite a few Volunteers stood out in making key sacks and forcing punts. Camp Overstreet led the team with 16 tackles and one tackle for loss, while Lesley added six tackles and one tackle for loss of his own. Senior Wyatt Johnson had two tackles, one tackle for loss and three sacks. Overall, 13 different players recorded at least one tackle for Starkville Academy.
The Vols are now 5-4 on the year, with a 1-2 record in divisional play. Although the team’s success on homecoming night had fans cheering and screaming, Nicholson still believes more must be done.
“Everybody wants to win every district game, we all know that,” Nicholson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about getting in the playoffs. That’s what really matters. No matter how you get there, let’s get to the playoffs and get on the path and go on the road and let’s go.”
Starkville Academy will host Bayou Academy next week in its final regular-season game of the year.
Starkville Academy 25, Pillow Academy 12
Pillow Academy (4-4) 6 3 3 0 — 12
Starkville Academy (5-4) 0 3 7 15 — 25
PA — Dayne Sanford 30 interception return (kick failed), clock 10:13
SA — Rett Keenum FG, clock 5:35
PA — Lawson Harvey 35 FG, clock 0:05
PA — Harvey 30 FG, clock 5:46
SA — Briggs Bennett 7 run (Keenum kick), clock 1:21
SA — Charlie Nicholas 1 run (pass successful), clock 8:45
SA — Nicholas 50 run (Keenum kick), clock 5:06
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