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Starkville Academy will hit the gridiron for the final time this season tonight in Greenwood against Pillow Academy.
For the Volunteers, who sit at 3-7 overall and 2-4 in Class AAA, tonight's game won't be about a playoff spot. Win or lose, SA will be forced to pack up the shoulder pads and helmets until 2011.
Instead, the 7 p.m. contest gives SA the opportunity to notch one more memorable moment in a campaign that's been full of them.
"This season has been very rewarding," said Vols head coach Jeff Terrill. "The team started a chant themselves, when they break the huddle down and get ready to stretch, and there's a sign in our locker room that says it, they'd shout 'restore the pride.' I think the seniors on this football team have certainly brought a lot of pride back to Starkville Academy athletics."
After starting the year with five-straight losses, the Vols recorded the program's first win since 2008 by defeating Winston Academy on Sept. 24.
Since then, SA has won three of their last five games, including the last two in a row.
Perhaps the Vols' biggest win came last week when they defeated what was then a 6-2 Magnolia Heights team who was pushing to get into the postseason.
"That win last Friday night sent a message that we're getting better every day," said Terrill. "It lets our guys know that the hard work and extra effort that they've been doing to get better, it pays off. It makes our guys want to work even harder and dedicate themselves even more."
One individual who is reaping plenty of benefits from his dedication is senior fullback Matt Ward.
In the last two games, Ward has totaled 232 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns.
"He's really played especially well the second half of the season," said Terrill. "He's a great example of a young man who has gone out and just refuses to lose. You see that in his play. He's really been a force to be reckoned with."
Terrill hopes Ward's strong play will continue tonight against a stout Pillow defense that has averaged allowing just 13.7 points per game, the best in all of Class AAA.
"In our opinion, (Pillow) could be the best team we've played all year," said Terrill. "They play a very good brand of defense that they take a lot of pride in. They are good up front. They're just an old-fashioned football team that believes in establishing the run and being physical and keeping the ball away from you. They're going to finish as the number one team in their division (Class AAA, Division 2) and they're probably the favorite to win that state championship."
While Pillow will bring plenty of talent to the table in tonight's game, Terrill's team has proven they can now hang with, and potentially defeat, high-quality opposition.
Despite the progress that has been made, Terrill says the last three months are only the start.
"There's still a lot of work to do," said Terrill. "It's still just the beginning. But we're really excited about the effort all our kids are giving now."