Jackets look to stretch region winning streak
Running back Garrett Smith (21) leads the Yellowjackets with 387 yards on the ground in six games. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
The Starkville Yellowjackets are about to complete the trip around the block right where coach Jamie Mitchell wants them to be.
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Mitchell has divided the Class 6A, Region 1 schedule into two blocks with DeSoto Central, Tupelo and tonight's game against Horn Lake being the first block and Southaven, Olive Branch, South Panola and Columbus being the second.
Starkville, which is 4-2 overall, has already defeated DeSoto Central 38-16 and Tupelo 47-14. The Jackets travel to take on the Eagles at Horn Lake with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
"The value of each win doesn't change," Mitchell said. "A win over Tupelo carries the same value as the DeSoto Central win.
"I thought it was imperative for us to be 3-0 at the end of this block and we'll worry about the last four if we can get past this hurdle. Horn Lake went and got a win over DeSoto Central and it's at their place so nothing's ever easy. We know we're going to have to go up there and play well."
There wasn't much that went against the Jackets against the Golden Wave at home last week, but there were lapses in the kicking game which put Tupelo in good field position at times.
Mitchell said the blame didn't rest with the coverage unit so much as getting the kick directed to the right place.
"You set your coverage to an area and when the ball is not kicked there, it's not always the fault of the kick coverage unit," Mitchell said. "I don't think I've ever coached a game where I didn't think we could find some places to get better. We did play extremely well, but at the same time, there are certain areas we've got to get better in."
Starkville upped its woes in the category of penalties to 75 flags for 611 yards, but has only turned the ball over five times in six games.
Senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson hasn't thrown an interception since the first game of the season against Noxubee County. He has completed 33 of 79 pass attempts for 638 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mitchell is careful not heap a tremendous amount of praise on Johnson, but realizes the offensive system right now runs through the signal caller.
"Quez's play continues to be outstanding," Mitchell said. "Offensively right now, he's giving us chances to make a lot of plays.
"You'd love to see the percentage better on attempts and completions, but if you go back and factor as many drops as we had early on, that's not bad at all. He's throwing the ball accurately and we've got guys catching it."
Tight end Martavius Foster has made up for the loss of receivers Gabe Myles and Kentrell Spencer by catching 10 passes for 229 yards with two touchdowns, while wide receiver Shaquille Hill has seven grabs for 120 yards with three scores, and running back Garrett Smith has seven catches for 173 yards.
Smith is the leading rusher for the Jackets with 387 yards on 46 carries, while Johnson adds 346 yards on 69 attempts.
"I think we're hitting a little bit of a stride offensively, just being able to identify what we can and can't do," Mitchell said. "I like where we are. I really do."
Mitchell said the offense could receive even more of a boost next week with the return of sophomore running back Preston Baker. Baker has been out of action since the first game with a broken jaw and is due for a doctor visit Monday.
Horn Lake has struggled to a 1-5 overall record so far this season with one win and one loss in the region.
Mitchell sees the Eagles as a dangerous team with a quarterback in Mac Cooley, son of head coach John Cooley, that has the potential of throwing the football well.
"They have more weapons than DeSoto Central did," Mitchell said. "We're going to have to play good on defense."
That's something that Starkville has done this season with the most points given up in a game was the 20 to West Point.
"We've played very good defense and let's not fool anybody, that's what wins championships," Mitchell said.