By JAMES CARSKADON
For Starkville Daily News
Starkville High School head coach Jamie Mitchell did not sound like a coach whose team had just won a game 45-8 on Friday night.
Mitchell’s Yellowjackets crushed Canton High School 45-8 to improve to 6-2 this season and 4-0 in conference play, but the team’s five fumbles, two of which came at the goal line, stuck out from the game.
“We’ve had that happen the last three of four weeks on offense,” Mitchell said. “A mistake here or there. I feel like we could be just dynamic on offense, but you know, we threw the pick six last week to start the game … It’s very frustrating. It seems like it’s starting to get mental with us now. Almost like we’re waiting on something bad to happen.”
The Jackets’ first drive of the game went 65 yards thanks to a steady ground attack, but on second and goal from the 3-yard line, a fumbled quarterback-center exchange was recovered by Canton. However, on the very next play Eric Rogers sacked Canton quarterback LaMarcus Jones for a safety, giving the Jackets a 2-0 edge.
In another fortunate turn of events for Starkville, after fumbling the ball away on the goal line once again, LaTajah Brown recovered a Canton fumble in the end zone, giving the Tigers a 9-0 lead with 1:17 left in the first quarter.
Despite the turnover problems on offense, Starkville High’s defense was able to overpower the Tiger offense, only allowing 124 offensive yards in the game, many of which came in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
The Jacket offense clicked in the second quarter and put three touchdowns on the board. Two short touchdown runs from Preston Baker and a 28-yard touchdown pass from Gabe Myles to Jimmy Saulsberry gave SHS a 22-0 lead heading into halftime.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, although Starkville High switched to backup quarterback Michael Newman. The junior caught the crowd’s attention with a 26-yard touchdown run where he showed off his wheels and eluded Canton tacklers for the score.
He also found Kentrell Spencer on a 26-yard pass for the Jackets’ final score, giving them a 45-0 lead with 59 seconds left in the third quarter. After the game, Mitchell was proud of Newman’s performance.
“I thought Mike did a good job leading us on a couple scoring drives,” Mitchell said. “We’re very fortunate to have him. Great backup quarterback and he made some plays for us.”
Canton got on the board in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard touchdown run from Xavier Kelly, giving the game its final score of 45-8. Senior lineman Cory Cannon echoed Mitchell’s analysis of the Starkville High team after the game.
“We’re good, but we could be doing better than we’re doing,” Cannon said. “Fumbles, turnovers, interceptions. We could get better on those things. We’re good, but we’re just trying to get better.”
Myles led Starkville offensively, going 8-16 with 149 pass yards plus a touchdown and also rushed nine times for 35 yards. Baker led all rushers with 70 yards and two touchdowns as the Jackets rushed for a total of 195 yards.
Canton’s offensive yardage was split evenly between the run and the pass with 62 yards in each category. Starkville dominated the first downs category, racking up 18 to Canton’s four.
An off the field issue that bothered Mitchell was the quiet and relatively small crowd present at Friday night’s game, which the coach discussed unprompted in a post-game interview.
“I could not be more disappointed in our crowd,” Mitchell said. “Our football team is 6-2 and 4-0 in the division, and hardly anybody is here. In this town, these folks deserve people here. They’ve worked extremely hard. I know there’s a lot going on in Starkville tonight, but these guys need this town behind them.”
The Jackets will look to clean up the sloppiness on the offensive side of the ball before they travel to Yazoo City next Friday as they enter their final three games of the regular season.