JACKSON – On the grandest stage in all of Mississippi high school football, the Starkville Yellowjackets' defense lost its sting.
SHS surrendered 459 total offensive yards and a season-high 38 points as the Jackets fell to Picayune 38-21 in the Class 5A State championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
"We're just really disappointed," said Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell. "I never thought we'd give up 38 points. We've played better defense than that.
"We just lost to a little better football team. They earned every bit of it."
Picayune quarterback Benjamin Hickman passed for 145 yards and two touchdowns and the Maroon Tide rushed for 314 total yards, led by Dereonte Magee's 133, as Picayune (13-2) spoiled Starkville's first trip to the state title game since 2001.
"This hurts," said SHS junior quarterback Gabe Myles. "I didn't want this championship for me. It was for the seniors. They've been through a lot the last couple of years and it would have been a great way for them to go out with a championship ball. I feel bad I couldn't get it for them."
Myles rushed for three touchdowns and 165 yards for the Jackets (12-3), giving him a season total of 1,018 yards on the ground, but the signal-caller's passing struggles in the first half hindered Starkville.
Myles ended the first half just 3-of-14 through the air for 39 yards.
He concluded the game 6-of-22 passing for 52 yards and two interceptions.
"(Picayune) just brought the blitz every single play," said Myles. "That's something I wasn't prepared for. That's on me. It was just good pressure."
As the Maroon Tide's defense harassed Myles and company, Picayune's offense sprinted away from Starkville.
Picayune's Desmond Taylor put SHS in a 7-0 hole early when the junior running back broke a 64-yard touchdown run on the game's first play from scrimmage.
The Maroon Tide doubled the Jackets' deficit later in the quarter when Hickman found wide receiver Justin Mark on a 79-yard touchdown strike to make the score 14-0 in favor of Picayune.
"I just keep going back to those two big plays in the first half," said Mitchell. "We give up a fullback dive on the first play of the game and then a deep post. Games like this, you can't give up the easy ones. You've got to play every down."
Picayune added a 23-yard field goal by Daniel O'Meara early in the second quarter to take a 17-0 lead before Myles began to pull Starkville back into the game with his legs.
Myles' 5-yard touchdown run with 7:06 to play before halftime was just a precursor to what was to come after the intermission.
On Starkville's first drive of the second half, Myles broke loose a 57-yard scoring scamper to pull the Jackets to within three points at 17-14.
Later in the quarter, SHS took its first lead of the game on a 1-yard Myles run.
It was the last points the Jackets could muster though as Picayune scored the final 21 points of the contest.
The Maroon Tide started their run with a 13-play, 94-yard scoring drive that lasted from the end of the third quarter into the opening moments of the fourth.
Picayune capped the drive and took a 24-21 lead courtesy of another Hickman-to-Mark connection.
"That drive kind of shows how our football program really is," said Maroon Tide head coach Dodd Lee. "You just gut it out, fight for every inch and hope it comes out your way."
Hickman said he wasn't surprised at Picayune's resilience.
"We knew we couldn't drag our heads when we got behind," said Hickman. "We knew we couldn't let them get the momentum on us. So we just were determined to get back out there and do our thing."
The Maroon Tide scored two more times in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
Preston Dedeaux and Daveon Greene each broke off touchdown runs of 17 yards and 15 yards respectively to cap the night's scoring and give Picayune its crown.
"I just feel really blessed," said an emotional Lee. "I've got some great kids and some outstanding men that help me coach. Everyone has worked so hard for this and I'm really proud for them."
Mitchell meanwhile was left searching for answers after Starkville saw Picayune dominate the fourth quarter and end all hope for the Jackets.
"The fourth quarter, we were keying hard on the fullback and they started running some split-dive stuff and that was all kind of the beginning of the end for us," said Mitchell.
Though Mitchell saw his first trip to Jackson as a head coach end on a sour note, SHS's leader couldn't help but see the big picture following the Jackets' loss.
With Starkville's roster primarily composed of sophomores and juniors and a talented group of freshmen moving up to the varsity squad for next season, Mitchell believes the Jackets are primed to make playing for a championship an annual occurrence.
"This all isn't new to Starkville," said Mitchell of being in Jackson. "They've been here a lot. Hopefully, we'll find our way back."