SHS TOPPLES TUPELO
Garrett Smith (21) crosses the goal line after one of his two touchdowns for Starkville against Tupelo on Friday night. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell has been on the job long enough to understand he can depend on quarterback Jaquez Johnson to make a key play.
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Already leading 7-0 against the Tupelo Golden Wave midway through the first quarter on Friday night at Yellowjacket Stadium, SHS faced a fourth down and inches at its own 22-yard line.
Mitchell knew who needed to handle the football.
"We just believe we can get 6 inches with our offensive line and (Johnson) at quarterback," Mitchell said. "We'll go for it every time. We've got confidence in those guys."
Johnson took the snap from center and ran 3 yards for the first down.
"Our offensive line wanted it more than their defensive line," Johnson said of that moment. "We pushed it in."
It was a good thing the Jackets kept that drive going because three plays later Johnson hooked up with tight end Martavius Foster for a 71-yard touchdown pass at the 3:03 mark of the second quarter.
SHS offensive lineman Jarrod Atterberry said converting on fourth down and inches energized the team.
"That was the play that turned it around and really got us going," Atterberry said.
Johnson had 100 yards of touchdown passes in the first quarter and finished the game with 225 yards passing as Starkville toppled Tupelo 47-14.
"(Johnson) is going to play great for us and that's just what he does," Mitchell said. "That's what our expectations are for him. I wouldn't expect anything less."
With the victory, the Jackets improved to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in Class 6A, Region 1, while the Golden Wave fell to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the region."
Johnson was excited about the victory.
"It feels good to beat Tupelo because they've always been a rival," Johnson said. "We beat them and we beat them bad."
Mitchell said the fourth-down conversion gave his Starkville team the confidence it needed to turn it on offensively against Tupelo.
"We made some big plays tonight and the turnover battle went our way," Mitchell said. "That was a big part of us getting out to a big lead."
After the Jackets forced the Golden Wave to punt on their first possession, Starkville needed only four plays to find the end zone when Johnson hit Shaquille Hill for a 29-yard pass with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter.
The first quarter ended with the Jackets up 14-0 following the big play for Johnson and Foster.
Tupelo cut the margin to 14-7 on a 3-yard run by quarterback Luke Hobson at the 10:35 mark of the second quarter, but SHS put up two more scores before halftime.
Garrett Smith had a 20-yard run for a score with 6:46 left, then with 11 seconds remaining, Johnson threw his third touchdown pass of the first half, this time for 61 yards to Bryce Henderson.
Starkville came back in the second half and got a big play from the punting unit.
It ended up being a wild play.
After Wesley Montgomery kicked to Tupelo's Ashton Shumpert of the Golden Wave, Shumpert fumbled trying to get extra yards and Stanley Higgins picked up the ball for the Jackets. Higgins returned it to the 15-yard line where he lost the ball and recovered by Johnny Smith at the 9.
Johnson threw his fourth touchdown pass four plays later with a 5-yarder to running back Jakarta Agnew. Starkville held a commanding 33-7 advantage with 8:29 to play in the third quarter.
The Jackets added seven more points before the end of the third quarter as Garrett Smith scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, a 16-yard run at the 3:59 mark.
Garrett Smith finished the game with 129 yards on 12 carries.
"He's been doing great all year long," Mitchell said of Smith. "He flies under the radar and doesn't get a lot of credit. He's an extremely good running back."
In the fourth quarter, Johnson scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper for the game's final points.
Along with the fumble recovery by Johnny Smith, Priston Henderson also had one for SHS and Bryce Henderson had an interception.
The Jackets make the trip to Horn Lake to continue region play next week.
"We played extremely well," Mitchell said. "What we've got to continue to do is continue to get better and look at the film. We're going to take this one game at a time."