Neighbors Starkville Academy, East Webster meet as way to improve teams

Starkville Academy's Will Miller (33) and Taylor Ray (13)

East Webster's Tyrik Pittman (32)

Staff Writer

Head coaches Chase Nicholson of Starkville Academy and Ron Price of East Webster want the same thing for their high school football teams.

Each week they want to see improvement.

That’s what makes games like the one tonight between the Volunteers and Wolverines important.

Regardless of the outcome in the public and private school matchup of neighbors, Nicholson and Price hope it benefits both sides.

“There are no cupcakes on our schedule for sure,” Price said about East Webster’s list of opponents. “After the Okolona game, I just challenged our guys to work on the things that we can control as a staff and as a football team, let’s focus on one game at a time and not worry about what’s in the future. (Last week) we put all of our attention on Smithville and this week all of our attention is on Starkville Academy.”

The Wolverines (1-2) defeated Smithville 28-13 and carry some momentum into Friday night's home outing.

Starkville Academy (3-0) has put three solid wins together, including last Friday’s 20-14 triumph over Indianola Academy.

Even though the Vols knocked off a Colonels group that they lost to in the regular season last year, then ended up facing again and beat in overtime for the AAA State championship, Nicholson won't place any more emphasis on the Indianola Academy game than what’s there.

“It was week three and game three,” Nicholson said. “It was a great win because it was a formidable foe. We’ve still got a long way to go and we’ve got another week this week so we can’t treat it like a state championship game because it’s not. When it was over, you can’t treat it like you won a state championship because you didn’t. You’ve got to continue to get better because we have things to work on.

“We want to make fewer and fewer mistakes. Mistakes are going to be made. We are going to demand perfection week in and week out. We are not stupid enough to think that we are going to get perfection, but we are going to push them to be perfect as an individual, as a unit and as a team.”

Starkville Academy may be perfect by record only, but Price doesn’t see too many weaknesses in the Vols.

He knows nothing will be easy about hosting a defending state champion Friday night at 7 p.m.

“They are extremely well-coached and it’s unique watching them on film because every player is playing their position and doing exactly what they’ve been coached to do,” Price said. “They’ve played some quality opponents up to this point of the season. I’m very impressed with Starkville Academy’s defense. Coach (Nicholson) has done a good enough job of putting enough points on the board to win offensively. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The most dangerous player East Webster will see on Starkville Academy's side is running back Taylor Arnold, who already has 71 carries for 419 yards rushing and three touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Garrett Lewis has thrown for 312 yards and Nason Heflin has 116 yards receiving. Defensively, Howell Archer has 24 total tackles.

The Wolverines have gotten 302 yards passing out of quarterback Gray McCarter in three games, while Tyrik Pittman is the leading rusher with 34 carries for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Conner Shurden has eight catches for 126 yards and one score.

There were many special games for Starkville Academy last year on the way to a state title but one of the contests Nicholson enjoyed the most was the one against East Webster.

The two programs developed a relationship over the years through playing seven-on-seven tournaments during the summer, so a regular season matchup was scheduled and there were no regrets on either side.

“I had so much fun and I expect the same thing again,” Nicholson said. “Last year getting to play for the first time in history was fun because we knew each other and we played them for so long in seven-on-seven. It’s a good relationship and good game for both communities.”

Price can see a great rivalry developing with the Vols because of the closeness of the schools (30 minutes), the desire for both programs to win and the relationship between student-athletes.

Starkville Academy quarterback Garrett Lewis has gotten to know some of the Wolverines through a different sport.

“I used to play baseball with a bunch of them,” Lewis said. “I’ve hung out with a bunch of them so it should be fun.”