MERIDIAN â€“ The Starkville program got its first look Friday night at how far away they were to being one of the elite programs in the state.
Yellowjackets head coach Jamie Mitchell was not pleased with what he saw.
â€śI thought our kids played their butt off for 48 minutes but darn it we have to make a play at some point,â€ť Mitchell said.
A Starkville fan approached an understandably dejected Mitchell after the game trying to console the SHS head coach with words about the effort and the Jackets players against a state championship contender.
Mitchell wanted nothing to do with the conversation.
â€śWeâ€™ve got a mental thing going here right now because our kids need to understand this is not the Starkville of old,â€ť Mitchell said. â€śI donâ€™t want to hear anymore that we were close or weâ€™re getting there. If weâ€™re going to be at the level I expect them to be at, they are going to have to understand they have to go get it.â€ť
Meridian, ranked No. 2 in the latest Class 6A poll, held on against an upset-minded Starkville (1-2) squad for a 14-7 victory.
â€śWeâ€™re not that far ahead of this Starkville program and tonightâ€™s game was proof of that,â€ť Meridian head coach Larry Weems said. â€śI thought over the last couple of years they hadnâ€™t played to their capabilities but Jamieâ€™s got something going on over there.â€ť
Meridian (3-0) got the go-ahead score on a 9-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Kenya Roberts on a option pitch early in the fourth quarter to complete a 10-play, 67-yard drive.
The Wildcats were able to hold the ball for the final 5 minutes of the contest to secure the victory.
â€śWe played well enough to win and sometimes thatâ€™s good enough because I was worried about this game all week,â€ť Weems said.
The Wildcats took their opening possession 52 yards on a drive that would end with a 1-yard Jacoby Eason touchdown run to give the home team an early 7-0 lead. Eason, who has received interested from at least seven Division 1 schools (including Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU), also recovered a fumble on defense Friday night.
The score, which occurred 6 minutes into the game, was the first time Starkville had an opponent score a first quarter touchdown in the 2010 season.
Starkville attempted to answer the early Meridian score late in the first quarter but after a play-action fake Yellowjackets quarterback Jaquez Johnson was sacked from the backside by Wildcats junior linebacker Laderrick Roberts causing the ball to pop loose and recovered by Eason. After recovering a fumble by Meridianâ€™s Antoinne Adkins on a quarterback draw deep in its own territory, Starkville drove 69 yards late in the first half only to have the drive stall in the red-zone and Daniel Fumoâ€™s 41-yard field goal was way short.
â€śIt seemed like every time we drove the ball down the field, weâ€™d stop ourselves with either a mental error or dropped pass,â€ť Mitchell said. â€śWe flat out canâ€™t have it if we expect to win and I donâ€™t care what the team weâ€™re playing is ranked.â€ť
On the opening drive of the second half, Starkville stuffed Meridianâ€™s offense on fourth-and-two with the ball on its own 32-yard-line to take over possession. When Roberts was stuffed in the backfield, Mitchell and four other assistants ran out on the field giving a large fist-pump.
When it looked like Starkvilleâ€™s first opportunity of the second half would be over, Meridian junior linebacker Joseph Rutley was flagged for roughing Yellowjackets senior punter Wesley Montgomery and five plays later SHS found the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Johnson to tie the score.
In the passing game, Johnson consistently found holes in Meridianâ€™s cover-two defense all evening but once again Yellowjackets receivers refused to help their senior quarterback out by dropping three perfectly thrown passes by the 6-foot, 220-pound signal caller.
Starkville will face another difficult challenge as they will try to get back to .500 when they travel to the top-ranked team in Class 5A West Point next week.