Starkville running back Preston Baker, right, cuts up the field while teammate Stanley Higgins hits a Madison Central defender with a block during last year's meeting. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The last two seasons the Starkville Yellowjackets lost their season-opening football game to the Noxubee County Tigers.
In those same seasons, the Jackets bounced back the next week for victories.
If SHS is to duplicate that series of events again this year, it has to defeat the tough Madison Central Jaguars on the road tonight. The kickoff for the CSS television broadcast is set for 7:06 p.m.
The latest loss for the Jackets to Noxubee County was 29-8 last Friday at home and it was a blow, but coach Jamie Mitchell said his team has prepared for another challenge.
"We strap it up and buckle it up again," Mitchell said. "I've said this a million times that kids are more resilient than coaches. They bounced in here Monday and were ready to go to work. These first four games are just brutal and we knew that going in. We were 2-2 at the end of those four last year. It's not going to get any easier, but at the same time, I'm firmly confident that it will pay off for us down the stretch and the finish."
After a 14-7 loss to Noxubee County in 2010, Starkville shut out Louisville 34-0. The Jackets defeated Madison Central 16-14 last season after falling to the Tigers 33-20.
Noxubee County and Madison Central are just two of the squads that make up a difficult four-game non-conference stretch to open the season for SHS.
With rivals West Point and Tupelo yet to play before division play begins, Mitchell knows the Jackets will be battled-tested.
"These first four games are not the end of the world no matter what happens," Mitchell said. "Certainly we want to win and expect to win the rest of them, but our whole preparation is to get ready for division play and I've said before we want to take this one game at a time."
As hard as it was to take the kind of beating that Noxubee County dished out, Mitchell said Starkville learned some things in the process.
The Jackets started a completely new offensive front and there was just not enough experience to handle the Tigers.
"None of those guys had ever started a high school football game," Mitchell said. "From a coaching staff, we had maybe fooled ourselves into believing some of our losses we could overcome."
One of the two starting linemen Mitchell was counting on was Kirk Kinard, but he has been lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. SHS will move Jawon Johnson back to the offensive line, but that won't totally or immediately solve the problem up front.
"We had hoped, wished and thought that some of these guys behind them would be just as good," Mitchell said. "The fact is we've got some work to do with those spots. As much as we want to mask, and not to make excuses because it is what it is, we lost some quality players. It takes time for those offensive linemen to come around. We're playing with a ton of inexperienced and ton of youth there. They are talented and will get better."
Even though there were no obvious miscues offensively because of the inexperienced line, there wasn't any production either.
Starkville could only manage 81 yards of total offense with 6 yards coming through the air.
"We've got to get some pieces moved around," Mitchell said. "We're going to be fine, but we're trying to find ourselves right now."
When it comes to playing against Bobby Hall's Jaguars, the Jackets have to do an about-face in terms of a defensive plan.
"That's hard too because they've changed schematically both offensively and defensively," Mitchell said. "We had a pretty good plan last year against them, but you throw all of that out the window and start fresh this year.
"We've got some guys who are going to be hungry when they get there, I promise that. We'll give it everything we've got. We've got to keep guys on their feet and healthy. You play every game and go at it wide open. The season will take care of itself and hope by (division play), we will have some adjustments made."
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