SHS's Mitchell returns to familiar territory
Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell (middle) was the head man at Olive Branch for four years. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
It's safe to say that Jamie Mitchell knows his way around Olive Branch.
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During a four-year stint as the head coach of the Conquistadors, Mitchell became quite familiar with the surroundings.
Mitchell, now the head coach of the Starkville Yellowjackets, takes his team to the town near the Tennessee border tonight for a Class 6A, Region 1 encounter against Olive Branch. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
It was through the labor of Mitchell that the Conquistadors were able to start experience success again in football and he enjoyed his time there.
"We loved it at Olive Branch," Mitchell said. "We went there when the program was down. It was probably one of the worst 5A schools in the state and got it turned around. Our last two seasons there, we were 24-4 and lost to Panola three times, but were ranked No. 2 in the state.
"We had a great four years there and made a lot of friends and there a lot of good memories. Olive Branch is a great place to coach and great place to work."
Mitchell understands he returns to Olive Branch as the enemy and Starkville faces a well-established program under the direction of coach Scott Samsel, who followed Mitchell there.
"Since I've left there, it's been Panola No. 1 and Olive Branch No. 2 in the North," Mitchell said. "It's a place where you are going to have good players and no question they get a lot of move-ins that certainly helps them. They are going to draw from a lot of areas."
The Conquistadors (4-4 overall) are tied for fourth in the region with Tupelo with a mark of 2-2, while the Jackets (5-3 overall) are tied for second place in the region with Southaven at 3-1.
Starkville comes out on the short end as far as the head-to-head standing with the Chargers due to last Friday's 28-27 loss.
Mitchell said the Jackets came back to practice this week "a little down" because they realize what could have been.
"What hurts our kids so bad is they know we've lost two games by a touchdown and one by an extra point," Mitchell said. "Just a few plays here or there and we're undefeated, but we're not we're 5-3."
One area where Starkville has been pretty good this year is turnover ratio.
The Jackets have lost six fumbles to 14 for opponents, while throwing four interceptions to seven picks by opponents.
"Over an eight game period, that's outstanding," Mitchell said. "You look at those numbers a little bit more, (backup quarterback) Bryce (Henderson) threw an interception in a mop-up deal at DeSoto Central, we threw an interception on a gadget play against Noxubee and on our six fumbles, three of those were junior varsity fumbles."
In the loss to Southaven, Mitchell points to the interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble lost at the 7-yard line as making more of a difference than the missed two-point conversion at the end.
"Not getting the two-point play was a big play as well, but we just hadn't been turning it over and we turned it over two times in two critical situations," Mitchell said. "That's really the difference in winning and losing."
Starkville is led by senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson, who learned Wednesday he was invited to participate in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic. Johnson has passed for 875 yards and rushed for 488 additional yards.
Senior running back Garrett Smith paces the Jackets running game with 531 yards on 70 carries.
A bright spot for Starkville last week was the return of Preston Baker, who had been out since the Noxubee County game with a fractured jaw.
Baker, who touched the football on a kickoff return in the second half against Southaven, has been sick this week which has set him back even more.
"We want to get him worked back in but it's hard and it takes time," Mitchell said. "We want to get him more touches because we believe he can do things with the football."