Celebrating defense: Vols get homecoming shutout

The Starkville Academy defense, led by Will Miller (33), makes a stop against Magnolia Heights on Friday night.

Staff Writer

Homecoming is almost always a celebration of the past.

Former students and athletes return to their stomping grounds to reminisce.

So it was perhaps only fitting that Starkville Academy won the old-fashioned way on Friday – with more solid defense. It’s something that is becoming extremely common for SA.
The Volunteers kept Magnolia Heights off the scoreboard for a 24-0 homecoming victory at J.E. Logan Field.

“We expect nothing different from our defense than that,” SA head coach Chase Nicholson said. “We expect them to play like that. We expect them to get after it for four quarters and they did a great job of it.”

Magnolia Heights (3-2) drove the football into Volunteer territory just twice all night long. Starkville Academy (5-0) remained stingy all evening, forcing a pair of turnovers to aid their cause.

“It’s incredible,” Taylor Arnold said of the Vols' defense. “Our offense doesn’t want to always rely on the defense, but sometimes you have to when you have a defense this good.”

While the Starkville Academy defense was unrelenting, it was Arnold who took care of the rest on the offensive side. Arnold accounted for every single point that the Vols scored with three total touchdowns, three extra points and a field goal.

“When you have a senior like (Arnold) that you can count on and expect to do all those kinds of things, it’s a luxury,” Nicholson said. “We’re able to count on him in so many places.”

Arnold scored the game’s only points of the first half on a 20-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. That got Starkville Academy off and running offensively.

Then, after Elizabeth VanDevender was crowned the Starkville Academy homecoming queen at halftime, Arnold helped put the game away. He crossed the goal line on a 16-yard run in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter he added a 6-yard scoring scamper, then put the exclamation point on his big night with a 41-yard field goal that sailed perfectly through the uprights with plenty of room to spare. It was a career-long kick for Arnold, who had missed a 38-yarder just prior to halftime. He was glad to get redemption.

“It was nice to bounce back and make one,” Arnold said.

The reality of the situation is that Arnold probably didn’t even have to do as much as he did offensively on Friday. The Volunteer defense was just too much. It was SA’s second consecutive shutout and third this season. The Vols have now only allowed a total of 14 points over the last four games. Only half of those came against the defense as the other seven came courtesy of a pick-six by the opposition.

Starkville Academy will try to keep up their dominant defensive ways next week when the Vols travel to Winston Academy. Nicholson said, despite his team’s excellent play on defense of late, it has no plans to be content. That could be bad news for Winston Academy and anyone else standing in Starkville Academy’s way.

“We’ll never be satisfied,” Nicholson said. “We have to cut out some big plays. If we become complacent, we’re not going to get where we want to go.”