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"We are Starkville."
That was the chant the Starkville High football players proudly yelled while exiting Mississippi State's Scott Field at Davis-Wade Stadium Saturday after their preseason jamboree matchup with Jackson Callaway.
For those who witnessed the two-quarter exhibition, it was easy to see why the Yellowjackets were displaying a renewed swagger.
Starkville quarterback Jaquez Johnson rushed for three touchdowns, the Yellowjacket defense out-played a much-hyped Callaway offensive line, and Starkville impressed onlookers in out-scoring its opponent 21-0 in two quarters.
"We came out ready to play," said Johnson. "It felt just like what we've been practicing every day."
Starkville put the pressure on Callaway early. After receiving the game's opening kickoff, the Jackets drove to the Chargers' 41-yard line in three plays. Needing to convert on third down, Johnson connected with Kentrell Spencer on a 19-yard completion down to the 22. Gabe Myles followed that with an 18-yard rush, setting up Johnson's first score, a 4-yard scamper, giving the Jackets a 7-0 advantage after Daniel Fumo's extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, Starkville maintained momentum. SHS's Garrett Smith recovered a high, hanging kick at the Callaway 25 to put the Jackets right back in scoring range. Three plays later, Johnson crossed the goal line again, putting Starkville up 14-0 just 3:21 seconds into play.
"We're not really used to that," Johnson said of getting a big early lead. "We had to catch ourselves from getting too happy, but we tightened back up."
No one was more pleased with the Jackets offense, particularly the line, than first-year head coach Jamie Mitchell.
Mitchell particularly praised the work of center Ben Newman, right guards Chris Crosby and Cory Cannon, left guard Jawon Johnson, tackles Chris Prater and Jarrod Atterberry, and tight end Martavius Foster.
"I thought up front, we did some good things," said Mitchell. "That's where it's got to start for us. Those guys are all going to be good players for us."
The O-line again proved beneficial to the Jackets for their final score. Beginning the second quarter with a drive starting from their own 37, Starkville went 63 yards on nine plays, 55 of those yards coming on the ground. Johnson capped the drive with a 12-yard carry for the score.
Though the Starkville offense was potent, the Jacket defense held up their side as well, penetrating frequently through a Callaway offensive line led by 6-foot-5, 320-pound Aaron Morris.
Morris said after the game that nagging injuries amongst the Chargers offensive front prevented Callaway from setting up the running game.
Mitchell praised Starkville's play nonetheless.
"We challenged our team all week," said Mitchell. "(Callaway) has three guys D-1 guys up front and we just completely devastated their running game and completely took it away from them. When you can make a team one-dimensional, it can make things a lot easier for you."
Both Foster and Jakarta Agnew recorded sacks for the Starkville defense.
Performing well both offensively and defensively against an opponent such as Callaway should definitely boost Starkville's confidence according to Johnson. One thing the Jackets' signal-caller hopes to help his team avoid however, is a case of overconfidence.
"That kind of thing happens all the time," said Johnson. "I hope that doesn't happen with us. We've just got to keep on working hard."
One man who definitely doesn't seem like he will be taken with complacency after Saturday is Mitchell. As promising as Saturday's game proved to be, Starkville's leader still isn't settling, knowing Noxubee County awaits on Friday.
"We're very pleased with what we did today, of course that doesn't do anything for next week," said Mitchell. "But I know this, from where we were this spring to where we are today, there's no comparison. It's not even the same football team."