By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville Academy head football coach Jeff Terrill doesn't mince words when it comes to stating the importance of the Volunteers' game against Copiah Academy.
Hosting the Colonels tonight for a 7 p.m. conference matchup, Terrill says there is plenty on the line for the Vols and it is simply up to SA to take advantage.
"You've got a program in Copiah that's used to being a playoff team and we're trying to replace them," said Terrill. "That just makes this a royal battle. There's a great chance that the winner of this game will at least make the playoffs, so there's a lot at stake."
Luckily for the Vols (5-1 overall, 1-1 in District 2, Class AAA-II), they have recent experience at dealing with the pressures of a big stage.
Just one week ago, SA headed south and battled one of the Mississippi Association of Independent School's premier programs on the road in the form of Jackson Prep.
While Starkville Academy fell 23-0 to Prep, Terrill saw plenty from the Vols that he hopes can carry over to tonight and beyond.
"I thought our kids went and played with great effort against Prep," said Terrill. "We didn't do some little things that stopped us from having success on offense, but special teams and defense, I think, really stepped up and played very, very well. We just hope we can take the things that we learned and the intensity level that we played with and carry that into the remainder of the season."
Terrill understands that Starkville Academy must again bring its best efforts to hang with Copiah (3-3, 0-2 in District 2, Class AAA-II).
That particularly rings true when the Colonels are on offense where running back Kelton Smith gives Copiah big-play capabilities.
"He's probably the best running back we've seen all year," said Terrill of Smith. "He looks big and fast on film. I don't think there's any doubt that he's the best back we've seen and he's the type of player that can change a game with one cut."
As talented as Smith is, perhaps the key to tonight's matchup will be his health.
According to Terrill, Smith was unable to play in a game against Jackson Prep earlier this season due to a high-ankle sprain.
Smith's injury is just one of several that Copiah has had to deal with so far this year.
"We've had a ton of injuries," said Colonels head coach Scotty Cline. "We lost a quarterback right off the bat, who had a car wreck and broke his femur. We've got a dislocated kneecap, a dislocated shoulder, two dislocated thumbs and another broken femur."
With their injury problems, Copiah has had to shift several of its players to new positions according to Cline.
That perhaps makes Terrill's job a bit more challenging as he and the Vols staff put together a plan of attack.
"You have to do some speculating," said Terrill. "As a coach, you always anticipate that those players that they are missing are going to be well and that they're going to be at full strength.
"You always prepare for their very best."
One advantage Starkville Academy has in making preparations for Copiah is the mere location of tonight's game.
After competing in three straight road games, the Vols are looking forward to finally returning to their home field for the first time since Sept. 2. It will also be homecoming at SA.
"We've been on the road for three weeks, so it will certainly be an advantage for us to be back at home with our fans," said Terrill. "We've got a big Friday night and it certainly ought to be an exciting game."