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By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Yellowjackets knew they had to make a stop.
With Friday's night's second-round Class 5A football playoff game against the West Point Green Wave tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter, things did not appear to be going Starkville's way.
The Green Wave had seized momentum from the Jackets following a 3-yard touchdown run by Tez Lane to tie the game with 11:12 remaining in the fourth quarter and they got the football back at midfield.
That's when SHS linebacker Dennis Ware stripped West Point quarterback Dequinten Spraggins of the football and it was recovered by defensive lineman Cory Cannon.
"We needed the ball back bad so we played lights out defense so the offense could help us out," Ware said.
And the offense did by moving 52 yards on five plays with quarterback Gabe Myles scoring the winning touchdown at the 7:11 mark of the fourth quarter. The Jackets went on to win a 20-14 decision over the Green Wave at Yellowjacket Stadium.
"Words can't describe what I'm feeling," Starkville football coach Jamie Mitchell said. "That's an awesome football team over there (in West Point) and my hat is off to Chris (Chambless) and those guys. It doesn't get much better than this.
"To beat these guys here. I can't tell you how blessed and fortunate we are."
With their ninth-straight victory, the Jackets improved their record to 11-2, while West Point's final record stands at 8-5.
Starkville also took advantage of a turnover to score its first touchdown in the first quarter.
After Taylor Johnston recovered a Spraggins fumble at the 46-yard line, the Jackets moved nine plays into the end zone on a 2-yard run by Myles with 1:24 left to play in the first quarter.
Spraggins shook off the first-quarter miscue by scoring a touchdown in the second quarter for the Green Wave. He just avoided the tackle by Starkville's Latajah Bush and managed to get to the end zone from 5 yards out. The extra point was blocked and the Jackets held a 7-6 lead at the 10:19 mark of the second quarter. That stood until halftime.
Starkville went on an 80-yard, 11-play drive on its first offensive possession of the second half. Devin Mitchell scored the touchdown on a 5-yard reverse run with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
The key play on the march was an 11-yard completion by Myles to Jimmy Saulsberry on fourth down. Other first downs on the series were a 15-yard run by Ladorious Pittman, a 17-yard run by Mitchell on a reverse and a 16-yard run by Myles.
West Point tied the game early in the fourth quarter with the Lane run and a Spraggins 2-point conversion run after 14 plays covering 73 yards.
The Jackets showed they weren't going to be denied after the Cannon fumble recovery that allowed Myles to get his winning score.
"I knew the defense was going to have to step up like it has all season and let the offense go on and finish the job," Cannon said. "I had to make a big play."
Myles only completed 1-of-9 pass attempts for 11 yards for Starkville in the first half and finished completing 4-of-15 for 64 yards. He made up for his poor night throwing the football by rushing 21 times for 130 yards.
"It was frustrating not to be able to get the passing game going, but my teammates kept picking me up," Myles said. "Thanks goes to the offensive line for giving me the holes to run through. If you can't get it passing, you've got to use your feet."
Coach Mitchell said Myles just found a way to get the job done whether it was through the air or on the ground, but was proud of the way the defense kept the Jackets close.
"I thought defense played lights out," Mitchell said. "To hold them to 14 points is just unheard of. It's just a great team win all of the way around.
"What we've got to get our guys to understand is this wasn't the state championship because we've got work to do and another game to win to get to Jackson."
Starkville will invade familiar territory next Friday when it makes the trip to Ridgeland for the second time this season to face the Titans for the right to play for the state championship.