Monday Morning Quarterback: Starkville 37, South Panola 7

Robbie Faulk

Staff Writer

Calendars have turned to November and the first bitterly cold ball games (by my southern, thin-blooded standards) have hit.

For Mississippians, that means high school playoff football. For Starkville High School, that means pay day every Friday.

This has been the time where Starkville has been as good as anyone in Class 6A over the last few years. Coming into last Friday’s showdown with South Panola, The Yellow Jackets had gone 8-1 in the preliminary playoff games leading up to a state championship. The one blemish in the last three playoff appearances, coincidentally, had been South Panola’s 36-26 come-from-behind victory back in 2014 for the north state championship when the Jackets felt certain that they had the best team in the state.  

Many people around Starkville believe that to be true this season. Count me as one of those people as I still contend that SHS should be undefeated at this point. The Jackets have to prove me and several others true over the next three weeks if they want to cement that claim.

For Friday night, Starkville certainly looked the part of a state title contender. South Panola came in with former Jacket coach Ricky Woods and weren’t nearly the Tiger team in Batesville that fans from around the state have grown accustomed to seeing over the years.

The talent isn’t bare, mind you, but there isn’t nearly as much high-end talent playing for the program that was once compared to a university football team. Woods and the Tigers did throw the first blow, however.

That first jab came from a player that I do think can be as good as some of the greats that came through wearing the red and blue over the years. It was the junior running back Janari Dean, who proved why he had huge numbers of over 2,000 yards rushing for the year when he broke through the Starkville defense and raced for a 61-yard touchdown for the early lead.

From there, the Yellow Jacket defense swarmed.

We were all reminded why this Starkville team was considered the best in the state early in the season when that defensive unit went to work over the next three quarters. The unit was all over the place led by Zach Edwards’ 11 tackles and four tackles for loss. The Jackets were nasty and violent and they put the rest of Class 6A on notice that they still are the team to beat in the north.

As dominant as Starkville was for those four quarters, the Jackets still have a major task ahead of them. It begins this week with another do-or-die game and this one is on the road.

It’s a game that many people have been looking forward to seeing all season long as Horn Lake and Starkville had been considered the top two Class 6A teams before Starkville lost its only game to Northwest Rankin.

The north half of the bracket has really become anyone’s game. Horn Lake is perfect at 12-0 and rolled through Region 1 without any hiccups, then the other three teams are all from Region 2 and all capable of winning a state title as Northwest Rankin, Madison Central and Starkville pride itself on physicality and can make explosive plays on offense.

Horn Lake fits the persona of the Region 2 teams the best of any in Region 1 and it is led by five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean and athletic quarterback Raydarious Jones. Starkville handled this team at home last season with the 35-7 victory, but that was last season and that was at home. The Jackets have to play their best football of the season to move on to a second-straight 6A North State championship.

With the way that they play when it matters the most, I wouldn’t count on them having an off night.

Robbie Faulk is the high school writer for the Starkville Daily News. The opinion's in this column are Faulk's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SDN or its staff.