Jackets ground Eagles

Starkville's Jalen Ware (13) tackles Tyler Grim.
Staff Writer

Questions have risen for Starkville High School in their quest for a state championship this season.

The Yellowjackets have played stingy on the defensive side of the football but miscues on offense have kept them from reaching their full potential.

Starkville emphatically returned to form on Friday night.

Riding the back of Rodrigues Clark and big plays from Malik Brown and Cameron Hines, the Jackets exploded in the second half and punched their ticket to the North State championship with a 35-7 win over Horn Lake.

“We’ve been practicing all week leading up to this moment,” Hines said. “This feels great.”

It was a 28-point second half that led the way for SHS, which racked up 503 yards of total offense. The Jackets had 226 on the ground and another 277 through the air.

Clark sparked the offense with his running going for 141 yards on 17 carries and 139 of those came in the second half after he sat in the first quarter for a disciplinary issue.

“Our offense looks a lot better when he’s in there because now you’ve got so many other things that (Horn Lake) gives us,” Starkville coach Chris Jones said. “He’s able to make two or three guys miss so even though you hand it off to him against a loaded box, he’s able to get some positive yards.”

The passing game flourished against Horn Lake’s defense. Brown was an efficient 14-of-18 for 220 yards and three touchdowns. Hines had the bulk of that with five catches for 161 yards and two scores, but Cameron Gardner also had two touchdown receptions with his four catches for 87 yards.

As expected, the defenses controlled the tempo of the game but not before the Jackets struck first.

A screen pass from Brown to Hines started the game with a bang as Hines raced 64 yards on the first play of the game for a score and the 7-0 lead.

“That was huge," Hines said. "I couldn’t have done that without the line and a great play call by coach Jones.”

For the rest of the half, Starkville had many opportunities due to its defensive play.

Myles Stone and Jalen Ware each had interceptions in the first half and set the Jackets up in Horn Lake territory. They failed to score both times and had another touchdown wiped out on a block in the back keeping them at a 7-0 lead at the half.

Horn Lake came out of the half on fire as running back Tyler Grim led the team down the field 60 yards on just four carries with a 10-yard run ending the drive and tying the game at 7-7. Starkville had the answer.

Led by Clark’s running, the Jackets got the football inside the 25. Brown found Gardner on a back shoulder throw in double coverage for the 23-yard score. Starkville used Clark again to get them inside the red zone and K.J. Lawrence finished a drive with a 9-yard score to push the lead out to 21-7 after three quarters.

The Jackets put the game away for good on third down when Hines caught a football and raced for another 60-plus yard touchdown making it 28-7.

For good measure, SHS tacked on one more late with Luke Altmyer hitting a 52-yard bomb to Gardner for the 35-7 advantage.

The Jackets were led in tackles by Zach Edwards, who had nine for the game. They had three interceptions on Raydarious Jones and Natrone Brooks had three tackles for loss.

The win sets up a rematch with Madison Central (12-2) in the North State championship at Starkville (12-2)  next week. The Jaguars left Yellowjacket Stadium earlier in the year with a 14-6 loss, but Jones knows that this game will be even tougher.

“This is all you ask for is an opportunity," Jones said. "The message (before the game) was to go make a play when you get the chance. Right now we’ve got a chance to advance to the ‘Ship. What’s important is this game this week.”