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Close but not close enough.
Even though Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell was pleased with the effort in a 14-7 loss to Noxubee County in the season-opener, the Yellowjackets still came up short.
Mitchell hopes the players become motivated to finish what they start.
"We're just tickled to death with the effort they played with," Mitchell said about the first game performance. "I've been very careful about telling our kids this because I don't want them to think we're happy with the results and we're not, but I thought we played extremely hard and had guys give great effort. If you can continue to do that, you are going to win your share. When you play hard, good things generally follow."
Starkville gets its next opportunity for a victory tonight at rival Louisville. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Mitchell said the Jackets don't have time to be discouraged about a loss with the string of challenges on the schedule.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," Mitchell said. "The kids' attitudes have been really good and they're crushed that we didn't finish the deal the other night. There were probably five or six plays that if we make any one of them, we win the game. It's just where we are right now."
Starkville had the football inside the 30-yard line with less than 3 minutes to go, but the drive ended with a Jaquez Johnson interception.
Mitchell hopes that if given that situation again, Johnson and the Jackets will do the things necessary to make a winning play.
"Our guys are not used to winning so we've got to get the mentality of we're going to find a way to win," Mitchell said., "That's what we've got to fix now.
"I've said all along, you've got to find a way to be in games before you find a way to win games and we were in that one. We had every chance to win it and just didn't. Now we've got to convince our guys to find a way when it's on the line."
The only points given up by Starkville were touchdowns to Noxubee County with 38 seconds remaining in the first half and 53 seconds left in the game.
Outside of the final minute of both halves, Mitchell knows his defense played well the entire night.
"I told them we played 23 minutes of each half, but didn't finish the last minute of each half," Mitchell said.
The reason why the Noxubee County game was so close in Mitchell's mind was the play up front on both sides of the football. He singled out the play of center Ben Newman on offense and defensive linemen Marcus Tate and David Fair on defense.
Fair came back from a back injury to cause a fumble on Noxubee County's first offensive possession.
"He hits the quarterback in the back, strips it and we get the ball," Mitchell said. "David is really doing a good job for us.
"Ben Newman played extremely well and he's a solid player for us at center. We're really pleased with Ben. He had his hands full because (Noxubee County) had a great nose guard."
The Jackets have their hands full in the cat family again this week, going from Tigers to Wildcats.
Louisville stands next in a line of rivals for Starkville and Mitchell said that's what makes the schedule "neat."
"The schedule is full of those big rival games," Mitchell said. "Noxubee was certainly one, Louisville is certainly one, West Point is one and Columbus is one. There's just so many of them and Tupelo is another one.
"(Louisville) has obviously been going on for a long time and I know it's tremendously important for a lot of people in both communities. When that's the case, it certainly adds to the hype for the game. Our guys know this is a big, big, big game for us."
Going from Tigers to Wildcats is something that M.C. Miller did in the offseason. He left as head coach at Noxubee County and returned to his hometown in the same capacity at Louisville.
Mitchell, who came from Itawamba AHS, considers Miller a friend and the two have matched coaching strategies on the field the last four years in the playoffs.
"It just seems like we've played both Noxubee and M.C. a bunch," Mitchell said. "I'll be glad to get past those guys."
Mitchell admires the way Miller has his teams ready to play.
"M.C. has been around a long time and his teams are always aggressive," Mitchell said. "You don't find them standing around very often. He demands them to run to the ball and they do a great job of doing that.
"They've got some skill players we're extremely concerned about. They are very gifted players. I certainly think it could be another one of those games that could come down to the last minute and hopefully if it does we can find a way this week.
"It's on the road, but at the same time, every field is 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. We've just got to play hard and if we'll continue to do what we did the other night, good things are bound to come our way."
On the injury front, running back Preston Baker suffered a broken jaw against Noxubee County, had surgery on Tuesday and will be out from four to six weeks. It's Mitchell's hope to get Baker back by the time division play begins.