By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Academy Volunteers walked off J.E. Logan Field Friday night with smiles on their faces.
Three wins in three weeks will do that for you.
With Friday's 22-0 victory over the Magnolia Heights School Chiefs, Starkville Academy has already matched last year's victory total.
After beating St. Andrews, Heritage Academy and now Magnolia Heights, the Vols stand at 3-0. They were 3-8 last year.
"We still know where we came from and we're excited about the win," Starkville Academy coach Jeff Terrill said. "We are very humbled to be where we are."
Experiencing a winning feeling is good for the senior Vols who endured a long losing streak and have been trying to build something positive the last two years.
Starkville Academy senior fullback-linebacker Ryan Mann likes the position the program is in, but knows there's still work to be done.
"It's great, but we can't get overconfident," Mann said.
The Vols put together another solid defensive performance and turned the visiting Chiefs away twice in the fourth quarter when it looked like they were gaining momentum.
Magnolia Heights had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 10:58 remaining in the game, but were turned away by SA.
Chiefs quarterback Luke Young was tackled for a 4-yard loss, then threw two incomplete passes and was sacked by Jordan Bright on fourth down.
Defensive coach Bubba Davis told the Vols to not let Magnolia Heights score and Mann remembered the goal the unit set at the beginning of the year.
"We wanted to have at least one shutout," Mann said. "That's all we were talking about when they got down there toward the goal line. We wanted to get our goal. To be a good team, you've got to step up in moments like that and make plays."
After Starkville Academy put points on the board in the fourth quarter when Colby Runnels had an 8-yard touchdown run at the 5:11 mark, Magnolia Heights was again in a position to score late in the game at the 12-yard line.
Mann sacked Young in a key stand late for the Vols.
"In the fourth quarter, they had momentum and I think the most positive thing we can take out of the game is we came up with the stop, we drove down the field and scored," Terrill said. "That's what winners do in the fourth quarter."
SA came out and ripped off three consecutive first downs to start the game with runs of 15 and 39 yards by quarterback Drew Pellum and one of 13 yards by Mann.
The drive stalled, but SA got close enough for Jonathon Burton to boot a 29-yard field goal with 9:17 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Vols added two touchdowns to their lead. The first came at the 9:36 mark when James Mapp broke an 18-yard run and the other was a 10-yard pass from Pellum to Hunter Bolin with 52 seconds remaining in the first half. That play was set up by another Pellum to Bolin connection of 28 yards.
Pellum completed 2 of 8 pass attempts for 38 yards and added 69 yards rushing on 10 carries. Runnels was the leading rusher with 126 yards on 13 carries and James Mapp added 63 yards on only four attempts.
Even though SA had 346 yards of total offense, Terrill said "it was certainly not one of our banner performances."
He saw some things that need to be sharpened up before next week's road game at Leake Academy.
"Give Mag. Heights credit because they had a great defensive plan and they did some great things on offense," Terrill said. "They were coached well and their kids played with great effort. We were very fortunate to win.
"It's easier to correct mistakes with a win."