Dominant Defense: Vols shut out Panthers

The Starkville Academy defense swarms French Camp quarterback Holman Edwards.

Staff Writer

Week by week, the Starkville Academy Volunteers know their identity.

The team expects to run the football hard and be physical up front on offense. Sometimes that leads to big nights on the scoreboard and sometimes it doesn’t. What always happens, though, is the defense is always dominant.

That was the case once again on Friday when the Volunteers hosted area opponent French Camp Academy and suffocated the Panthers from start to finish. The defense held French Camp to minus-3 yards rushing and just 11 yards overall en route to a 2-0 start for the season with a 25-0 victory.

“I always expect our defense to play great," Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said. "I’m proud and excited when they do, but that’s our expectation. They’re not exceeding our expectations. They’re doing exactly what we expect them to do.”

For the Panthers (1-1), it was a night of frustrations. Quarterback Holman Edwards was held to 14 yards passing and had minus-9 rushing yards in the game, though he had success on defense with two interceptions.

French Camp coach Nathan Wright felt the depth of the two teams played a factor in the loss, but he also saw some mistakes that could be corrected in practice.

“We were lost a little bit on offense and missed a lot of key blocks,” Wright said. “Overall, I was still surprised it was 25-0 as bad as we thought we played.”

It was apparent early that the Volunteers were in position to score many points, but they struggled to finish drives. A punt, a turnover on downs and a fumble welcomed them in the first quarter, but they got a semblance of momentum in the second frame.

On the very first play of the quarter, Ben Guest scooped up a blocked punt to get the first points. The offense drove inside the 10 on its next offensive possession and got a 29-yard field goal from Taylor Arnold for the 10-0 advantage at the half.  

It was a half that the players wanted to forget as they left some points out on the field.

“We’ve got to finish," Nicholson said. "We’ve got to have the mentality that we’re going to punch it in every time. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on and that’s the great thing about coaching. We get to go to work Sunday and Monday.”

To reconcile, Starkville Academy came out swinging in the third quarter.

A defensive three and out set up what would be a 61-yard touchdown pass from Garrett Lewis to Nason Heflin for the first offensive touchdown. It was a healthy 17-0 lead midway through the quarter and stayed comfortable.

While the defense continued to stifle the Panthers, the Volunteer offense was finding its footing. Lewis passed his way down inside the 15-yard line and Arnold finished off a drive at the end of the quarter with a score to make it 23-0.

Starkville Academy kept the theme of defense going in the fourth quarter when it scored more points with a safety on a sack of Edwards. That gave the Vols their 25-0 lead and put French Camp near negative yardage of total offense.

Arnold produced yet another 100-yard game for his resume as he hit 117 on 20 carries with a touchdown. Lewis was 12-of-22 in his second career start at quarterback with 153 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Heflin finished with four carries for 24 yards and three catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Starkville Academy was led by Cade Vickers and his 1.5 sacks. Will Miller added a sack of his own and Sam Clark had a tackle for loss.

Next week will be one of the most anticipated games in the state as a rematch of the Class AAA State championship from a year ago takes place at J.E. Logan Field. The Vols lost the regular season battle against Indianola on the road last season, but they won the war in Jackson with a state title defeat being the only blemish on the Colonels’ schedule.

Nicholson said he cautions his players that it’s just another game for them when the lights come on next Friday.

“It’s the most important game that we play because it’s the next one,” Nicholson said of the match up. “We’re looking forward to it and excited to try and get better.”

French Camp returns home next Friday as it hosts area squad Eupora.