The Starkville Academy Volunteers may have been an underdog in Friday night's matchup with Jackson Prep.
Starkville Academy’s head coach Jeff Terrill talked to his team before the game about how the Volunteers wanted to play the game.
“We need to play our football,” Terrill said. “We need to play hard, fundamental football.”
This game was comprised of good defensive play by both teams, however, Jackson Prep’s offense proved to be too strong for Starkville Academy in the end and lost a 49-21 decision.
The Volunteers were focused early on clock management. On their opening drive, the Vols ran off 4:30 before eventually having to punt. The Starkville Academy defense then held strong, holding Jackson Prep to just 6 yards in three plays, forcing the Patriots to punt after a three-and-out stop.
The first sight of momentum came on the Patriots second drive. After a fumble by Patriots running back Hamel McGraw was recovered by the offense, Jackson Prep drove downfield, acquiring three first downs and 37 yards on just five offensive plays.
A defensive pass interference penalty at the SA 1-yard line brought the Jackson Prep Patriots to the SA 19 yard line. However, the momentum of the game swiftly turned as the SA defense held strong, forcing a fumble at the 2-yard line that was recovered by the Volunteers.
The first quarter ended after a short offensive drive by SA was stopped on six plays. The second quarter began with an offensive clinic put on by Jackson Prep. Quarterback Gene Woods for the Patriots led Prep down the field, completing all but one pass on the drive. The drive ended with a 6-yard rush by running back Hamel McGraw on fourth down and inches to put the Pats up 7-0 with 8:16 left before halftime.
The Volunteers were forced to punt in their attempt to match the scoring drive from Jackson Prep. The Vols were plagued with penalties on defense, giving up 25 yards on two penalties. The Patriots took advantage of the Volunteer miscues, ending the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run from quarterback Gene Woods.
Offensive woes continued as the Volunteers were stopped on three plays offensively. On fourth down, the Vols lined up for a punt, but after a mishandled snap by the punter, the ball ended up in the end zone, eventually to be recovered by Jackson Prep. Jackson Prep ended the half scoring 21 unanswered points in 6 minutes. At halftime, the score showed a 21-0 lead for the visiting Patriots.
Starkville Academy started their second half with excellent field position after a mishandled snap by Jackson Prep that was recovered at the 1-yard line. Quarterback Drew Pellum scored on the first play of the drive with a quarterback sneak to re-energize the Volunteers’ offense. However, the energy quickly faded after a 75 yard run by Hamel McGraw on just the second play of Jackson Prep’s next drive.
By the second half, Jackson Prep had figured out Starkville Academy’s option-heavy offense, resulting in continued offensive struggles for the Vols. However, the Starkville Academy defense stood strong. On Jackson Prep’s third offensive drive, the defense forced a fumble on the first play that was recovered on the Prep 40-yard line.
Starkville Academy stuck with the option offense following the turnover, including a few draw plays and passes to go along with the option. This led to a 40-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by running back Colby Runnels to get the Volunteers back within 14 points of Jackson Prep.
SA’s defense continued to keep the hope alive, shutting down Jackson Prep’s high powered offense. This hope was carried throughout the team on Starkville Academy’s next drive. Pellum connected with wide receiver Austin Miles for a 25 yard pass to start the drive, down 14 with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was the only play of the drive to result in positive yardage, and with a blocked punt by Prep.
The Vols' defense continued to work hard, forcing turnovers throughout the third quarter. However, this would not be enough as their offense was shut down as soon as the ball was in the Vols’ possession. An interception by Jackson Prep’s Jake Williams that was returned to the Starkville Academy 7-yard line resulted in a touchdown run by Ty Higginbotham, putting Prep up 35-14 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter opened up with a 35 yard run by Higginbotham within the first minute of the quarter’s start. This run put Starkville Academy too far behind to catch up. After scores from Starkville Academy’s Hunter Bolin matched by a run by Jackson Prep’s Tyler Coleman, the game ended.
Linebacker Stephen Robertson thought the Vols did a good job of fighting in the game.
“I feel like we did pretty well against one of the best Academy teams in the state, if not the best,” Robertson said. “We just have to tackle better and keep up the effort.”
Starkville Academy plays Copiah Academy on the road next Friday for a spot in the playoffs.
Running back Zach Slaughter said next week's game is important for the Vols.
“We need to come in on Sunday, review film, and get better for next week,” Slaughter said.
The Volunteers currently stand at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in Class AAA-District 2, Division II. They will play three out of their last five games on the road to finish off the season.