By JOEL COLEMAN
Some teams don't live up to preseason hype.
The 9th grade Starkville Yellowjackets won't be remembered as one of those squads.
Starkville polished off a perfect 7-0 season and claimed the Golden Triangle Athletic Conference championship Tuesday night with a dominant 22-0 win over rival West Point.
For Starkville head coach Chris Carlisle, it was the culmination of all the promise the Jackets had shown before this year ever began.
"This is a special group," said Carlisle. "Since the spring, we had just a real good feeling that we were going to be good.
"We felt we were going to be real strong on defense, and that's what we did all year. We played defense all year, everyone kind of bought in and we just pushed everyone to get better and better each week."
Starkville's defense again answered the bell against West Point. A Jackets first-team unit that surrendered just three touchdowns all season long flexed its collective muscles once more in shutting down the Green Wave.
"The defense made some plays," said Carlisle. "They stepped up and created some turnovers when we needed them to."
As Starkville's defense held down West Point, Jackets quarterback Caleb Wilson and running back Jacquez Horsley took care of the rest.
Wilson's slashing 19-yard touchdown scamper and Horsley's 2-point conversion run broke a scoreless tie with 2:59 left in the second quarter, putting Starkville up 8-0.
"I just tried to find some open field," said Wilson of his run. "I had to cut back and my team blocked well. I had to throw a stiff arm and made it in the end zone."
Starkville held its 8-0 lead until early in the third quarter when West Point threatened to put points on the board.
The Jackets thwarted the Green Wave however, courtesy of a fumble recovery by Derion Ford that set Starkville up on its own 3-yard line.
That's when Horsley broke loose on a 97-yard touchdown run to build the Jackets' lead to 14-0 after a failed 2-point conversion.
Later in the third quarter, Starkville capped the night's scoring when Wilson found Jay Clay on a 43-yard touchdown pass.
"(Clay) had a big-time catch and out-ran the defenders," said Wilson. "The o-line blocked well. Everybody just had a good performance."
As a result of Starkville's impressive showing, the Jackets can now call themselves champions.
"Going undefeated is a big thing," said Wilson. "My teammates had my back. I had their backs. We just have a good overall team."
Carlisle says he's now ready to see how this group of Jackets can help the varsity program continue to rise.
"This is just a building block," said Carlisle. "We're going to put this group together with the group in front of them and the group behind them, and there's a lot of good talent right there."
8th Grade Game
West Point 6
After a scoreless first half, the 8th grade Jackets put up three touchdowns in the second half to defeat the Green Wave.
Vincent Epps and Deontay Rogers each had touchdown runs for Starkville, while Maleke Bell recovered a fumble in the end zone for the Jackets other score.
Starkville finished the season with a 4-3 overall record, rebounding for a winning season after losing the first two games of the year.
"We got better and better as the year went on and started playing Starkville football," said Denson. "We had some running backs that grew up a little bit...and our defense has kept us in every football game. That was really the heart of our team. They played great all year."