CLINTON – It was a gloomy day weather wise, but nothing could get down the spirits of the Starkville High School boys' soccer team Saturday night.
The Yellowjackets won their first Class 5A Mississippi State Championship with a 1-0 victory over Pascagoula.
The Jackets scored the only goal in the game with 5:13 remaining in the first half when senior Price Day found sophomore Justin Gordon with a pass over the top that Gordon knocked in.
"We have been practicing in the Palmeiro Center on turf trying to get our touch right, trying to get a feel for turf," Day said. "For the turf to be all wet it is completely different than playing on dry turf. We noticed that it was skipping a lot. Just running real fast so all I was thinking was you have to put just the right amount on it to get it to him so he can get pass the keeper. So i just tried to give it a light touch that I knew (Gordon) could get to."
Arrowhead Field has synthetic turf so it did something to the ball that SHS has not seen all season.
"I knew Price knew what the turf was going to do because it was wet and it skips," Gordon said. "We practiced in the Palmeiro (Center), on the turf for two days this week and we just kind of got a feel for it so we knew what we had to do.
"I took a look at the keeper and he didn't come out. I thought he was going to come out, but he didn't. The ball skipped a little bit. I just kept my eyes on the ball. I never looked up at the goal. I just placed it a little to his left."
Day lightly kicked the ball over the top to Gordon to give him room run it down and have a play.
"We were trying to get them to go to the outside to keep it away from the keeper, but (Day) looked up and he saw Justin (Gordon) on that one and he said he kicked it very lightly," Starkville High School head coach Brian Bennett said.
The work in the middle was the key for the Jackets. Senior Kase Kingery and junior Dylan Butler did most of the work in the middle and Bennett noticed.
"They did a good job," Bennett said. "Especially Kase (Kingery) and Dylan (Butler) in the midfield. They were the ones that got the balls settled and moved it around and gave us those easy looks to go over the top. Justin and Price were wearing themselves out running them down. Justin finally got that one and put it away."
Bennett thought his team's speed could help them and it did.
"I thought we might have them with that and you could see, Justin (Gordon) was giving them fits up top," Bennett said of his team's speed. "And when Price (Day) wants to he can too. I thought speed-wise we probably had them outmatched today."
Gordon showcased his speed on most balls over the top and out-ran the Pascagoula players.
"My teammates know I'm fast," Gordon said. "They usually make plays I can get to. I just use what I have to get to it."
It was no surprise that Day was the one to get the assist.
"He is the fastest guy we've got," Day said of Gordon. "He is an outstanding player, outstanding kid. Just for him to put it in the back of the net it just made me feel so good."
Kingery thought the other playoff games made them a more complete team and gave them confidence coming in.
"I think it was the experience of these last playoff games," Kingery said.
Senior keeper Addison Watson may be the unsung hero of the game. The Panthers had several chances to score but were unable to.
They had one last shot in the final seconds but fell short.
"It was pretty difficult," Watson said. "The long throw ins were especially dangerous. (It was) really hard to judge them sometimes. Sometimes he lofted them straight up, sometimes he would do a line drive so we really had to work on that kind of stuff. We had been working on turf all week for practice and it was a great call on coach's part on that. I am just really proud for all the guys that have worked their butts off all season for this."
The Yellowjackets finished the year with a 14-3 record.