This Starkville Academy group of seniors has had their share of struggles in a Volunteer uniform, but they made sure their final home game was not one of them.
The Volunteers upset Magnolia Heights 34-22 behind three touchdowns from senior quarterback Kyle Henson and a swarming defense that only allowed six first downs for a victory on senior night.
“All that those young men had gone through to persevere and keep battling, I’m just excited for them,” SA head coach Jeff Terrill said. “I think those seniors just really wanted to show people that they were winners.”
The Volunteer win knocks Magnolia Heights out of the playoff hunt, as they were in need of two more victories and a Washington School loss to make it to the postseason.
Senior Matt Ward got the scoring started on a 37-yard touchdown run to put the Vols up 6-0 with 7:59 in the first quarter. After that score, Magnolia Heights started to capitalize off of Volunteer turnovers.
Safety Mac McDonald returned a Henson interception 30 yards for a touchdown, and on the next Volunteer drive defensive lineman Alex Geeslin recovered a fumble in the end zone. The Chiefs converted both two-point conversions and held a 16-6 lead with 4:42 in the first quarter.
After working out the kinks, the Volunteers buckled down the rest of the game.
“The biggest issue in the first half was they jumped in a defense we weren’t expecting,” Terrill said. “It caused us a lot of wrinkles, but our guys responded well to the turnovers.”
The Vols went into ball-control mode the rest of the half, running 22 consecutive plays on offense during one stretch in the first half.
A 1-yard Henson touchdown run and 20-yard touchdown pass from Henson to Ryan McKell gave the Vols a 20-16 lead going into the half. Magnolia Heights finished the first half with only one first down.
A long Volunteer drive to start the second half ended with a fourth down stop on the goal line, but two plays later McKell recovered a Magnolia Heights fumble in the end zone to give the Vols a 27-16 lead midway through the third quarter.
The fourth quarter featured one of the strangest down and distance situations most people will see in high school football.
McDonald appeared to score on a 9-yard run for the Chiefs, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty. Magnolia Heights players argued the call and were flagged for a personal foul. Making things even stranger, they kept arguing the call and were flagged again for unsportsmanlike conduct.
This left the Chiefs with first and goal from their own 44-yard line. Terrill admitted that in his years of coaching he had never seen anything like it.
Improbably, the Chiefs scored from that position after a 39-yard pass from McDonald to Taz Zettergren. That score cut the Volunteer lead to 27-22 with 7:46 left in the game.
The Volunteer defense held the Chiefs out of the end zone the rest of the way, and Henson added a 36-yard touchdown run late in the game to give the Vols a 34-22 victory.
Henson, who was playing the game with a cast on his broken left hand, was thrilled to leave his last game at J.E. Logan Field a victor.
“We were a big underdog, and they need two games to make the playoffs, but we just spoiled that for them, and that feels kinda good too,” Henson said.
The win gives the Volunteers three wins this season after winning just one game in 2008 and going winless in 2009. With the program searching for a signature win, the Volunteers may have found what they were looking for Friday night.
“Our whole battle cry all week long was that this means more to us than it does them,” Terrill said.
The Volunteer defense held the Chiefs to 187 yards of total offense, six first downs and forced two turnovers.
Ward was the leading rusher for the Volunteers with 90 yards, while Henson ran for 67 yards and threw for 70 yards.