Yellowjackets look to defeat nation's No. 1
SHS offensive lineman Eric Rogers (51) clears a path for running back Garrett Smith (21) against Southaven. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
The South Panola Tigers bring an impressive resume into Starkville's Yellowjacket Stadium tonight.
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The defending Class 6A state champion Tigers are off to another outstanding start this season with records of 9-0 overall and 5-0 in Region 1 which has vaulted them to the No. 1 spot in the nation.
That's a point that Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell calls "mind-boggling" when considering how many teams play high school football across the country.
"You've got to look at the big picture," Mitchell said. "It's not only what they've done in the state, but what they've done nationally and the recognition they've gotten. It's hard to put that into perspective."
The task will be great for the Jackets when they get things kicked off at 7 p.m., but Mitchell says playing against the nation's top-ranked team provides an opportunity no other team has this week.
"This is our chance," Mitchell said. "Certainly we have to play extremely well, not make mistakes, but this is a crazy game and I think our kids believe that if we do what we're supposed to do, you just never know."
Starkville (5-4 overall, 3-2 region) is coming off back-to-back losses to Southaven 28-27 and Olive Branch 40-36.
As tough as those results were to take, Mitchell said it's important for the Jackets to get off the mat and put forth their best effort against South Panola.
"It's like I told (the players), no one is going to feel sorry for us," Mitchell said. "We've been stung the last two weeks, but kids are a lot more resilient than coaches. We carry it a lot more than they do. They tend to move on which is a good thing.
"I think they understand our ultimate goal has been to get in the playoffs. They know if we win (tonight), we're in and if we don't, we've got to get some help. As hard as the last two weeks have been, we've got to just find a way to move past it and stay on track."
Starkville looks to the play and leadership of senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson to hopefully make enough plays to stay in tonight's game.
Johnson has been responsible for 1,583 yards of total offense with 1,028 yards passing and 555 yards on the ground. He has scored 26 touchdowns (15 passing, 11 rushing).
The two primary receivers for Johnson are Martavious Foster and Shaquille Hill who have 19 catches each. Hill has 348 yards and nine touchdowns receiving, while Foster adds 335 yards and two scores.
Garrett Smith is the leading rusher for the Jackets with 569 yards on 80 carries and five touchdowns.
Defensively, D.J. Jordan has the most tackles with 68, while Devin Mitchell adds 61 stops. David Fair and Johnny Smith have 48 each.
Mitchell knows he must get production out of those players and others in order to keep up with the potentially explosive Tigers. He said Starkville must be sound in everything from offense, defense, punt coverage, punt protection, kickoff coverage, and the kickoff return game.
"It's just amazing that year after year after year, it's the same result (for South Panola)," Mitchell said. "They are big and fast. They've got players at every position and there's not a weakness out there. There's not a player you think you can pick on.
"With the pressure they put on you, not just pass pressure, but the entire game, you feel like every play is one that could go to the house if you are not perfect. You've got to be flawless and they force you to be that way. That's hard to do in high school."
The first 300 students in attendance at tonight's game will be given free t-shirts. They will be available near the home concession stand.
Also, chairback seats for the final two games are still being sold at the gate for $10 each.
Starkville concludes the regular season by hosting Columbus next week.