Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell, left, signals a play to one of the members of his staff. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Once upon a time, Jamie Mitchell began his coaching career at Saltillo High School.
Mitchell recalls Saltillo being the first place he went to work in 1990 and remained there for a year and a half.
During that time, he got the chance to gain some experience and establish some relationships.
Mitchell has kept up with the Tigers and now as the head coach at Starkville will see them come into Yellowjacket Stadium to open the Class 5A playoffs tonight. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"I still have a lot of good friends there," Mitchell said. "It was a place that really struggled the last 15 to 20 years in football. At one time, (former SHS coach) Willis Wright was the coach there and they really did well. Pat Byrd took over there three or four years ago after he was at Amory and he's done a great job with the program. Pat is a good football coach and they've become a solid squad. They've got good players and are extremely well-coached. They are a solid football team."
The Tigers bring a 7-4 record into the matchup and are the No. 4 seed out of Region 1 with a 4-3 mark.
Mitchell said Saltillo is not a team to be taken lightly despite the seeding.
"They are a good No. 4 seed and have some good wins under their belt," Mitchell said.
Teams defeated by the Tigers this season are Lake Cormorant 17-7, Hernando 45-28, Clarksdale 35-21, New Hope 42-22, Booneville 34-33, Baldwyn 40-7 and Mooreville 35-0. The losses have come to Oxford 37-7, West Point 31-7, Center Hill 21-20 and Itawamba AHS 17-7.
Starkville swept through Region 2 and won all seven games for the second-straight season. The Jackets have an 8-3 overall record.
Mitchell said SHS can take pride in being one of 16 squads beginning the postseason this week, but it's going to take some work to keep the run going.
"The harsh thing about the playoffs is that number will be cut to eight after (tonight)," Mitchell said.
"You've just got to live week by week and even shorter term day by day. I challenge our seniors every day before we go out there to get everything out of that day they can get because tomorrow is not promised once you get into the playoffs.
"(Tuesday) was possibly the best practice we've had all year. The coaches kept telling me that our guys are going to be ready to go at playoff time, and that's good coach talk, but it was evident (Tuesday). I think they understand when you get to this point that if you don't practice a little bit scared and play a little bit scared, something is wrong with you."
The Jackets are led by senior quarterback Gabe Myles, who has produced 1,227 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns. He has completed 63-of-136 pass attempts for 798 yards and 10 touchdowns with 92 carries for 429 yards on the ground and six more scores.
Jacquez Horsley is the leading rusher for SHS with 83 carries for 628 yards and eight touchdowns, while Kentrell Spencer is the top receiver with 21 catches for 405 yards and five scores.
Defensively, Taylor Johnston paces the unit with 77 tackles and seven tackles for loss.
The Jackets have three linemen in Jalen Henderson, Justin Ware and Jawon Johnson, who have suffered various injuries over the last two weeks.
Mitchell is hoping the trio can play against Saltillo.
"It seems like just when we start to get on our feet a little bit, we get some bad luck," Mitchell said. "I think all three of those guys are going to try and play. It's just that time of the year."
One of the advantages of winning the region for SHS is it gets to host the first round of the playoffs.
With the new field house that the Jackets have enjoyed this season, it makes for a true advantage in Mitchell's mind.
"Friday afternoons down here are special," Mitchell said. "To have the field right here and stadium in front of you is just a great experience and one that we cherish. We really enjoy playing at home."
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