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Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell understands the importance of tonight's game at West Point.
No matter if his team wins or loses the 7:30 p.m. matchup at McAllister Field, it's Mitchell's hope that the Yellowjackets will see the Green Wave again this season.
Mitchell wants Starkville to make the Class 5A playoffs and he wouldn't be surprised if West Point was there waiting.
In his last season as the coach at Itawamba AHS in Fulton, Mitchell remembers playing and beating Lafayette County in the regular season, then dropping a decision to the same team in the Class 4A North State title game.
"You just never know because it's early and a lot can happen," Mitchell said.
For the time being, it's the latest game in the rivalry that's very big in the counties of Oktibbeha and Clay Counties.
"For our kids and community, this is probably the game everyone circles on their schedule," Mitchell said. "It goes both ways. It's probably the biggest arch-rival we've got. You love to coach in those and love to play in them. It's going to be a fun environment and a great game to be in."
The Jackets were able to take a 21-20 victory in last year's game and Mitchell knows the Green Wave have not forgotten that.
Even though West Point went on to win the state championship, there was one blemish on the way to capturing the title.
"Every time they look at that ring, there's a one on it and we are that one," Mitchell said. "I'm sure that's been on their bulletin board and they've stewed over it for 365 days. I can assure you we are going to get the best they've got."
The Green Wave may be off to an 0-2 start, but Mitchell knows both losses have come against good football teams and continues to heap praises on Columbus, the latest team to beat West Point.
"Folks have no idea how good Columbus is," Mitchell said. "They are a loaded football team. If they don't mess it up, they will have a big-time run this year. They've got every piece of the puzzle."
Starkville (2-1) has continued its trend of winning close games.
After opening the season with a loss to Noxubee County, the Jackets came back to take close wins against Madison Central 16-14 and Tupelo 10-7.
Mitchell said it seems his club has developed an identity of playing in and winning tight games.
"Our kids are starting to take a liking to that," Mitchell said. "They expect it to be the last of the game for it to be decided. Thank goodness the last two have gone our way and won two games by two field goals. It's been a long time since that's happened here. We're just finding a way to win them right now and get better every day."
The task to win those close outings was made tougher for the Jackets this week with the loss of both of their starting inside linebackers David Fair (knee) and J.B. Barriare (ankle) to season-ending injuries. There's a chance center Ryan Minor won't be available because of a hand injury.
Starkville did get a bit of good news last week with the return of wide receiver Jimmy Saulsberry, who made one catch for 3 yards against Tupelo.
"He is getting better every day," Mitchell said. "We certainly need him, but he's far from being 100 percent. Just having him back out there is a threat. Without question, he's our go-to guy. As he gets healthier, he will continue to get better."
Saulsberry will provide another target for quarterback Gabe Myles, who is 22-of-51 for 354 yards and three touchdowns through three games. Myles is also the leading rusher for the Jackets with 70 yards on 40 carries and two more scores.