SHS travels to Columbus looking for another victory

Ty Johnson and the Starkville High School defense looks to play well again at Columbus.

Staff Writer

It was apparent in the first half against West Point last week that Starkville was in a funk on the offensive side of the football.

Defense had held its own and allowed just one score, but the team trailed 7-6 after two quarters. Coach Chris Jones needed something to change in the second half as he wasn’t getting what he needed from all 11 players on the offensive side.

“A lot of it was execution,” Jones said of the first half struggles. “My guys weathered the storm and a lot of it was guys that hadn’t been in that type of game. They were pressing and doing some stuff that we haven’t worked. We had to get them settled down at halftime and get those guys that have been there before involved.”

To help settle things down, Jones turned to players that had played in a big game like that one before. Rodrigues Clark and Malik Brown were two of the most important players to help get the team back on track, and they did so in a big way.

Brown reeled off a big reception on the opening possession of the second half to eventually lead the team down the field and he finished with three catches for 50 yards, then there was Clark who had his best game of the season rushing 24 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

A season after missing out in the game with an injury, Clark was relied on heavily to win 23-7.

“Dreke and Malik kind of came in at halftime and helped everybody else get on board so I needed to make sure we got them the ball as much as we could,” Jones said. “I learned a long time ago to think players, (and) not plays. That’s kind of what we did in the second half.”

It’s been an excellent start to the year for Clark, who comes into Friday night’s game at Columbus with 50 carries for 371 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s had seven-straight games of 100 or more yards and has now done that in 16 of his 22 games played in his career.

The offense’s versatility has allowed Clark even more opportunities as Luke Altmyer has opened up the passing game. The sophomore is 40-of-60 for the year with 476 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. Rufus Harvey is his top receiver with 14 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown while Brown has eight catches for 104 yards.

Altmyer has felt like he has handled things well in the early going of the season despite being a first-year starter.

“I think I’ve managed games pretty well,” Altmyer said. “It’s always great to start 3-0, but I’ve tried to stay poised and locked in the first few weeks.”

While the offense continues to work through some kinks at times, the defense has led the way from the first snap. It starts with Jalil Clemons, Jaylan Ware and Zach Edwards. Clemons leads all players with 25 tackles this season with seven tackles for loss and has two sacks. Edwards has 21 tackles and a team-high four sacks and Ware has 19 tackles with four tackles for loss, one sack and much more of a positive impact that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

All of those players will be critical again this week as the team renews that old rivalry with the Falcons. It’s been a struggle for Columbus in recent years and it's already 0-2 this season with a brutal start to the schedule playing West Point, Noxubee County and Starkville.

The Yellow Jackets are the heavy favorites in the road game and there’s a high percentage of starting the season 4-0.

Jones is more interested in being 1-0 this week and he hopes his team has that same focus going up against a team that has had its struggles, but will have very little to lose.

“We’re going to treat it as if it’s must-win type of game," Jones said. "You don’t want the kids to feel like this game doesn’t matter because of whatever their record may be. You’ve got to put the pressure on yourself as a team and you can’t play down to the competition. We’re going to make sure we’re playing at a high level no matter who we’re playing against.”