By JUSTIN AMMON
For Starkville Daily News
In front of a large homecoming crowd at J.E. Logan field Friday night, Starkville Academy defeated Copiah Academy 34-26, securing its first winning season since the Volunteers won the 3A state championship in 2005.
“I looked at those seniors and told them, ‘I don’t know what will happen the rest of the season, but if you win tonight, that’s win number six,’ SA coach Jeff Terrill said. "‘People will look at you and say you are a winner and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.’”
Starkville Academy (6-1, 2-0 in District II) not only clamps a playoff spot with Friday’s victory, but lifted a largely symbolic burden from its players’ backs by securing a winning record in Terrill‘s second season, a feat it has not accomplished in six years.
“When coach Terrill first got here, the first step was to develop pride in our school and team,” quarterback Drew Pellum said. “The next step was to secure a winning season. We did that tonight. I believe in this team.”
From the contest’s opening kickoff, Starkville Academy set the tone by causing and recovering a fumble, which it recovered on Copiah’s 12-yard line. Four rushes later, Ryan Mann punched the ball in to give the Volunteers a 7-0 lead just 1:37 into the game. From the outset, it was clear the Volunteers intended to ride the back of Mann, who rushed for 161 yards on 30 carries scoring two touchdowns.
As a whole, the Volunteers ran the ball an astonishing 55 times, gaining 307 yards. Pellum gained 82 yards on 12 attempts and a scored a touchdown. He was also 4-of-6 passing for 87 yards and a score. Overall, Starkville Academy gained 394 yards to the Colonels’ 248 yards.
After Pellum tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Bolin with 30 seconds remaining in the half to go up 20-6, Copiah recovered a squib kick at midfield. Following a double personal foul penalty against the Vols, amounting to a 30-yard gift for Copiah, the Colonels missed a 33-yard field goal, cementing its 14-point deficit going into the locker room.
The second half was largely a see-saw affair as Copiah (3-4) managed to stay in the game via big plays. Colonel quarterback Barron Miller threw touchdown passes for 67 yards in the third quarter and 40 yards in the fourth.
After Mann ran for a 23-yard touchdown to go up 34-20 late in the fourth quarter, Copiah immediately responded with a 90-yard kickoff return by Kelton Smith, who accounted for 86 rushing yards on 20 attempts, cutting the lead to 8. However, that would be last points posted of the match.
Starkville Academy, which only threw one pass in the second half, stuck to its bread and butter for the final drive, eating up 7:23 on 15 rushes to end the game. On fourth and one on the Colonel 40-yard line, Mann plunged ahead for 9 yards to seal the victory. All that was left to do was take a knee.
“Bottom line, when we have to win it, we’re going to give it to No. 33 (Ryan Mann) and run behind No. 66 (Angus Catchot),” Terrill said. “We looked at them in the face and said, ‘That’s what were going to do’ and they knew it. But we found a way to open up holes.”