Finishing touches: SHS rallies in second half to defeat rival Green Wave

Starkville's defense wraps up West Point on Friday night.

Staff Writer

It was the game of the week in the state of Mississippi with No. 1 Starkville and No. 2 West Point going head-to-head in front of thousands of fans packed inside of Yellow Jacket Stadium.

The game pitted last season’s Class 6A North State champions in SHS and a Green Wave team with a 30-game winning streak in consecutive Class 5A State championships in tow. Something had to give.

The game lived up to the hype of two teams that pride itself on the defensive side of the football. Helmets and shoulder pads cracked, bodies flew and every play was a grind.

After a sluggish first half, the Yellow Jackets found their offensive groove and caught up to their defensive prowess. A dominating performance from the SHS defense was good enough to lead it to a 23-7 win and a perfect 3-0 start to the season.

“We just told them to finish after that feeling we had in December (losing the state championship),” Starkville coach Chris Jones said. “We’re playing a good opponent and it was a playoff atmosphere and we’ve got a lot of goals we’re trying to accomplish. Hopefully (West Point) will be there in the end and we’ll be there in the end.”

While both team’s defenses were strong in the game, it was a second half surge from Rodrigues Clark that was the difference in the game. The senior running back had 15 yards in the first half but racked up 139 in the second half. He finished the game with 24 carries for 154 yards and three scores.

West Point had a solid performance from Brandon Harris, who had 21 carries, 60 yards and the team’s only score, but the Jackets held them to just 3.1 yards per carry. The Greenies had 234 yards of total offense to Starkville’s 318.

By the end of the first quarter, neither team had scored with punts and fourth down stops being the highlights. SHS finally got something going with its first and only first down of the first half when Luke Altmyer found Rufus Harvey for a 30-yard gain on a diving catch to the 5-yard-line. It was 6-0, but the Green Wave came right back with an answer.

The defensive front of Starkville had just forced a quick three-and-out but roughed the punter. Two big pass plays later and the Greenies were inside the 10 and Brandon Harris finished off the drive with a 2-yard run to take the 7-6 lead at the half.

“We were pressing a little bit because we had a lot of guys that have never been in this game,” Jones said. “We tried to calm them down and let them understand it was a football game, and at the end of the day, we’ve got to feed (Clark).”

It was all Jackets in the second half as they came out with a purpose. The first drive of the half saw them drive over 80 yards down the field after recording just 59 yards total in the first. Clark finished off the opening drive with a 39-yard rush for the score and SHS had the lead again. The Jackets added a field goal before the end of the third and were up 16-7.

Clark finished the Green Wave off in the final minutes with his third rushing touchdown, getting in from 23 yards away.

SHS’ Altmyer finished the night going 12-of-23 for 145 yards and his first interception as Tyler Rupert picked him off. Ruper had a team-high 10 tackles while Starkville’s Jalil Clemons finished with 11 stops and three tackles for loss.

“My hats are off to Starkville, (and) they played great,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said. “It’s going to be a lesson learned for us. We’re going to be OK. It’s not how high you fly. It’s how you walk when you come down. We just ran into a good Starkville team.”

The two teams now put the game of the year behind them and move on to the rest of its schedule. The Jackets will travel up the road to Columbus next week to take on the Falcons while West Point hosts Noxubee County.
Chambless is ready to see how his team responds.

“We’ll remember this game all year long, put it in the back of our head and get ready to play it next year,” Chambless said. “It’s a great rivalry and Starkville is a tough place to play. We’ve just got to get better.”