West Point caps tough stretch for SHS
Starkville High School quarterback Jaquez Johnson (12) breaks a run against West Point in last season's meeting. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
It's difficult to find a more challenging situation for a high school football team in the state than to play a non-division schedule including four opponents that have won state championships within the last two years.
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That's exactly what the Starkville Yellowjackets have had to endure with the likes of Noxubee County, Louisville, Meridian and West Point.
Louisville won the Class 3A title, while Noxubee County won the Class 4A crown and Meridian claimed the Class 5A championship in 2008, while West Point captured the Class 5A title last season.
The Jackets have won one of the first three encounters in the stretch and face the Green Wave tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at West Point's McAllister Field.
With the line of programs Starkville has seen, football coach Jamie Mitchell believes it will be beneficial when the Class 6A, Region 1 schedule starts in two weeks.
"Without a doubt, we will be prepared for region play," Mitchell said. "You want to win every game, but in the end, division play is what matters the most.
"I can sleep well at night knowing that after this week, we will be as battle-tested and as seasoned for that type of play as we can possibly be. You can take refuge in knowing you've been out there with some of the best and you battled them tooth and nail so when division time comes, we'll be ready."
The Jackets have a 34-0 victory against Louisville sandwiched between a couple of 14-7 losses to Noxubee County and Meridian.
It bothers Mitchell that Starkville didn't make enough plays to be 3-0 at this point, but he hasn't had any problem with the effort the players have given.
"It hurts me, but it hurts me more for the kids than anything else because, bless their hearts, they've been a fun group to coach and have given us everything they've got," Mitchell said. "I could not ask for them to do anything more that they've done.
"We are literally six or seven plays from being 3-0 rather than 1-2 and beat two outstanding football teams. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us and we're not going to make excuses."
Making plays is going to be something that's going to be more difficult for the Jackets now that they've lost sophomore wide receivers Gabe Myles and Kentrell Spencer. Myles is out for the remainder of the season after breaking his collarbone and two ribs, while Spencer could be out the rest of the season after tearing his medial collateral ligament and possibly his anterior cruciate ligament.
Starkville is still playing without running back Preston Baker, who suffered a fractured jaw against Noxubee County.
Mitchell said the injuries take away three of his up and coming sophomores.
"We weren't crazy about playing them to begin with, but we had to go with them," Mitchell said. "It's just a lot of game experience they are missing. We're struggling for some playmakers anyway and when you lose a couple, the depth is not there. We're getting in some kids and we'll see what happens."
The Jackets had their first junior varsity game Tuesday night and even though it was a 20-8 loss to West Point, Mitchell saw some positive things.
Getting the future players of the program some experience was the most important thing to come out of the junior varsity action in Mitchell's mind.
"We saw a lot of things we really liked," Mitchell said. "It was just great for those kids to get to play because they work all week, every week."
Mitchell knows the challenge of playing against a defending state champion is tremendous. The Green Wave comes off an open week after defeating Shannon 39-14 and Mainland, Fla., 14-0.
"They've had two weeks to get ready and that obviously tells you they are going to have a hungry bunch," Mitchell said. "Not that Starkville-West Point needs anything to add any gas to that, but for a young team that hasn't played in a week, they are going to be eager to get back out there.
"I don't think there's any question they're the most physical team we've played and that's saying a mouth full when you've played Noxubee and Meridian, but these guys pride themselves on being physical."
Mitchell looks forward to Starkville's open date next week so it can "have a chance to catch our breath and get ready for division play."
The Jackets travel to DeSoto Central for their first region game on Sept. 24.