Volunteers overcome early adversity again for big win

Taylor Arnold

Staff Writer

Indianola Academy couldn’t have asked for a much better start to Friday night’s game against homestanding Starkville Academy.
On the Volunteers’ first play from scrimmage, Colonels cornerback Randy Kimble intercepted SA’s Garrett Lewis and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
No matter for Starkville Academy. The Vols had seen a similar script play out the last time they faced Indianola in last year’s state championship game. Just like that day last November, Starkville Academy overcame its early troubles. The Vols ultimately pulled out a 20-14 win over the Colonels Friday night.

“We knew how to bounce back from that because we had some experience with it,” SA’s Taylor Arnold said.

In last year’s state title affair, Arnold fielded the game’s opening kickoff and fell. Starkville Academy then fumbled away the football on the first play from scrimmage and Indianola immediately scored to go up 7-0. Of course, that story ended with the Vols hoisting the championship trophy in an overtime thriller.

There was no hardware to be won on Friday, but the result was similar. The Vols roared back after the Colonel’s pick-six. They put together an 80-yard drive immediately to tie the game up 7-7 when Arnold went into the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown run. Later in the first quarter, SA’s Matt Miller blocked an Indianola punt to set up an eventual Lewis 1-yard touchdown run. Just like that, the Vols led 14-7 and wouldn’t trail again.

“We love adversity,” Nicholson said. “It’s a great thing for us to have been in that situation moving forward. This is game three. We have a long way to go. It was a chance for us to be down. I don’t think we’d been down yet this season, so it was a great time to be down and see how we’d respond and we responded well.”

Indianola did pull even with Starkville Academy early in the second quarter. The Colonels capped off a 48-yard drive when quarterback Will Davis hit Kimble on a 5-yard touchdown pass.

The score stayed knotted for about 4 minutes. On SA’s ensuing possession, Indianola forced a punt, but the Colonels couldn’t field it cleanly. The Vols recovered on the Indianola 11-yard line and four plays later, Arnold was in the end zone with his second touchdown of the night – this one a short 1-yard scamper. That would be it for the night’s scoring as neither team cracked the scoreboard after halftime.

“We made some adjustments at halftime and came out and blanked them in the second half,” Arnold said. “That’s all you can ask.”

Starkville Academy put the game away in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. With Indianola out of timeouts, the Vols had the football on the Colonels 31-yard line facing a fourth-and-two situation. SA wrapped up the game as it reached into its bag of tricks and executed a fake punt to perfection. Walker Tranum ran for the first down to clinch the victory.

“The guys came and told us that (the opportunity for the fake punt) was there the last two times we punted,” Nicholson. “It’s one of those 50-50 situations. (Indianola) figured we were up to something. They just didn’t put a man in the right place so we took advantage of it.”

As the clock ran out, Starkville Academy had once again, just like nine months prior, absorbed an early blow from Indianola only to come out on top in the end. It was perhaps a statement win for the Vols, who improved to 3-0, to once again come out triumphant over the Colonels, who faced defeat for the first time and fell to 2-1.

Nicholson doesn’t see it that way. As much as the Vols enjoyed Friday’s win, Nicholson sees the big picture and there’s still a long, long way to go in 2018.

“This is game three and a stepping stone in the direction we want to go,” Nicholson said. “This is not the state championship. This is not a big district game.

“If we try to make it bigger than what it is, we’re going to lose our heads and lose our cool. Our job is now to go and keep getting better.”