STARKVILLE — After a tough 24-14 loss against Magnolia Heights on Sept. 30, Starkville Academy sat with a 4-4 record and 0-2 record in conference play.
A home game in the MAIS Class 5A playoffs would take near perfection on both sides of the ball and a 3-0 record to finish the season.
The Volunteers rose to the challenge, running the table to finish with a 3-2 conference record and a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
Having completed one half of the goal, the Vols begin the other half Friday night against a familiar foe: Leake Academy.
“It is really unique to play a team twice in the same year,” running back Charlie Nicholas said. “They’re definitely going to have something to prove and are going to be ready to come up here and play us.”
The Volunteers (7-4) and Rebels met up earlier this season on Sept. 2, when Starkville Academy traveled to Madden and left with a 39-7 victory, tying its biggest margin of victory on the season.
However, some eight weeks later, that game is old news as Leake Academy (3-6) is looking for revenge on Starkville Academy’s home field and hoping to snap a two-game losing streak with which the Rebs ended the regular season.
“It’s no secret that we played Leake earlier this season, but that game is behind us,” Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said. “What we have to get ready for is the Leake Academy that is going to show up on Friday night and that has to be our mindset.”
The Vols treat every week the same with the same goal in mind at the end of it: going 1-0.
That mindset didn’t change during the losing streak and didn’t change during the winning streak. Starkville Academy has evolved well with the season, especially toward the end of the year, to prepare itself for the playoffs.
Where some things didn’t go the Vols’ way in the middle of the season, they made corrections and executed plays, a big reason why Starkville Academy won each of its final three games by 13 or more points and allowed just 13 points a game in those games.
“We’ve had a talented team the entire year,” Nicholas said. “We had a strong start and then in the middle, we just had a few things go wrong, nothing major, but small things here and there, but those guys are making the plays now.
“Hopefully, we’ll just build on those wins, everyone does their job, and we keep winning ballgames.”
One of the biggest keys to success for this Starkville Academy team is the run game, something put on full display in that loss to Magnolia Heights.
While the Vols threw for over 300 yards against the Chiefs, that amounted to just 14 points in the end.
Being able to consistently penetrate that neutral zone, find gaps and power through them is what Starkville Academy and Nicholas do best.
“Our entire offense does better when we run the ball and demand respect inside the box,” Nicholas said. “If we’re able to run it, we’re going to put up good numbers offensively.”
Friday night will be where that once again gets put to the test as the playoffs begin.
Regular-season records are now thrown out the window.
Anyone can win, but Starkville Academy is going to make sure it will move onto the quarterfinals next week against Copiah Academy.
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