Although the district was already won, the Starkville High School football team had several reasons to play hard in the last regular season game.
The Yellowjackets beat the Neshoba Central Rockets 21-10 Friday night at Yellowjacket Stadium.
Before the game, 23 seniors were honored as it was senior night. They celebrated by capping a two-year run where they went 14-0 in Class 5A, Region 2, District 6.
"That is incredible that we have been able to do that," SHS head coach Jamie Mitchell. "Words can't give enough to them, these 23 guys. When I first came, football was not the thing to do. They made a commitment to stick with it. We changed a lot of things and they were willing to buy in. It is some special guys in that locker room."
There was one senior who was not on the field, but he was in the hearts of many players, coaches and fans.
Devin Mitchell passed away on Jan. 1. His memory lives on as the 32-yard hashmark on both sides of the field is blacked out.
"It has been a big part of this week," Mitchell said. "Focus is obviously on the ballgame, but it's hard. You have a guy that you know would have been here on senior night. Just really emotional for those 23 guys to have one missing. He just meant so much to our players and coaches, it's just hard to describe."
Late in the fourth quarter with the score 14-10 Jackets, the Rockets were driving. Neshoba Central called up the play, a wide receiver screen, that had been working so well all night long.
Junior linebacker Marlow Rogers stepped in front and returned it 16 yards for the touchdown to put the game out of reach with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"It was huge," Mitchell said. "That was one play at half we knew was going to be a problem for us, the screen play. We had been sitting on it and their back stumbled a little bit trying to get out, and the quarterback threw it right to us. It kind of put the game away."
Neshoba Central got on the board first when quarterback Joseph Willis rushed it in from 3 yards with 2:04 to go in the first quarter.
The play was set up by a Gabe Myles interception.
"There was some good and some bad," Mitchell said. "There was some turnovers. We have got to eliminate those. Really, really frustrated with the way we executed. We have to get a lot of things cleaned up."
Starkville struck back with a 1-yard Myles rush in the second quarter. He followed that up with a 76-yard scramble to make it 14-7 Jackets at the half.
The Rockets put a good drive together to start the second half, but had to settle for a 32-yard Caleb Crenshaw field goal.
"We have played great defense this year," Mitchell said. "We have shut a lot of folks out. Defense won the game (Friday night). They score seven of our 21. It's been a great run for us."
Starkville finished with 228 yards of total offense, while Neshoba Central had 268.
Myles was 3-of-13 through the air for 9 yards. The senior rushed it 10 times for 101 yards and two scores.
"It is a wonderful feeling knowing this is your last regular season game and be able to come out with a win," Myles said.
Sophomore Jaquez Horsley had 66 yards on three carries.
The Jackets (7-3, 7-0) will be at home next Friday night for the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.