Jackets host North State title game

SHS football coach Chris Jones
Staff Writer

There was reason to believe that days were numbered for the Starkville Yellowjackets heading into the playoffs and even after the first round against Southaven.

After reeling off seven-straight wins since their loss to West Point, SHS hit a bump in the road at the wrong time. The Jackets were shut out in the rain and mud at Warren Central 23-0, they struggled in the regular season finale before pulling out a 21-15 win against Clinton and then scored just six points in the first round against Southaven to barely stay alive.

With a tougher test coming in Horn Lake last week, many felt that SHS was playing on borrowed time, then the Jackets came back to the dance.

The Starkville offense had a huge second half against the Eagles in a 35-7 rout and the defense continued to play well. Madison Central coach Anthony Hart felt like the Jackets returned to their usual self.

“They really didn’t do anything different they just did things a little better,” Hart said of last week’s win by SHS. “I think they kind of righted the ship last week. It was a big game and kids make big plays in big games. It looked like they just rose to the occasion.”

That game has the Jackets right where they want to be in coach Chris Jones’ first year and that's playing for a trip to the state championship. Standing in their way will be the team that was right on their heels most of the season in Madison Central. The Jaguars finished with the same record in Region 2 but lost the matchup between the two teams 14-6 earlier in the year.

That was a game that Hart felt like his team played as well as it could at that point. The Jaguars gave up two touchdowns and played physical defense but their offense just couldn’t put together drives against the SHS defensive unit.

“You have to deal with their athleticism,” Hart said. “They’re very athletic and we can’t match up with those guys. We’ve got to scheme that way and try to counteract their athleticism and hope we have the right game plan.”
Last week was a good sign for the Jackets in their quest for a second state title in three years. The offense was led by wide receiver Cameron Hines, who had five catches for a career-high 161 yards and two touchdowns. For the year, Hines leads the team in every receiving category with his 64 catches for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Malik Brown has had a strong junior year at quarterback for Starkville with 24 touchdowns and 1,800 yards passing with seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 520 yards and four more scores.
As always though, Rodrigues Clark makes the offense go at running back. After being punished for an off the field incident for most of the first half against Horn Lake, he rushed for 139 yards in the second half and is up to 1,372 yards this year and 13 touchdowns in just 12 games.

The offense showed last week that it’s playing about as well as it needs to be. The defense has been even better led by Zach Edwards, who is second on the team with 99 tackles and the leader in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (27)

Myles Stone leads the team with his seven interceptions.

“I think we’re starting to peak in all phases,” Jones said. “Offense is coming back around, defense continues to play well and special teams is doing well. This time of year, you want to be good in all three phases, but if you can be good in two out of three, you give yourself a chance to win. All we can ask for is an opportunity.”

That opportunity is Friday night at 7 p.m. in Yellowjacket Stadium where SHS has won 21-straight games. Ironically, the last loss came in the North State championship game in 2014 where the Jackets lost to eventual state champions South Panola.

Starkville would like to make sure this one is more similar to its North State game against Madison Central two years ago.

“We’ve talked about it from day one getting to this point,” Jones sad. “The day one speech was to begin with the end in mind and now that’s here. We always talk about championships and doing things the right way. If you do the little things right, the big things will happen. Now we’re in position to be champions and it’s up to us to seal the deal.”