Jackets travel for key region outing

Starkville High School quarterback Luke Altmyer

Staff Writer

Something had to change for the Starkville Yellow Jackets after the Northwest Rankin loss.

The Jackets were in position to win the game on the road in a tough Class 6A, Region 2 battle, but they didn’t execute enough offensively to pull out the win and it cost them as they are now fighting an uphill battle for first place.

Even with the loss, SHS coach Chris Jones saw some areas to improve, namely on the offensive line.

The Jackets haven’t performed up to Jones’ standards all year up front and quarterback Luke Altmyer took hit after hit on his way to completing just over 50 percent of his passes. Jones remarked that he became more impressed with his young quarterback in how he handled that game, but he needed to make sure he didn’t encounter that again.

So SHS made a move on the line by sending defensive lineman and sophomore Ahmir Taylor to right tackle. It’s a move that Jones feels will pay off in time.

“We made the transition at the right time to help fix that,” Jones said. “We had two weeks of practice so I think that’s going to help us. I can see the difference with Ahmir in there and he has that nastiness to him. He understands how the defense tries to attack.”

The rest of the lineman like the move. Center Derwin Ferguson is among the leaders up front and was a proponent of giving Taylor a chance to help the unit. He believes the best football is ahead for Taylor, but he’s already been impressed with his coach-ability and how he listens to Taylor and the other veterans.

Ferguson said communication is the very key to success for any good offensive line. Getting back to those basics was how to get it fixed.

“The most important thing is to communicate more,” Ferguson said. “It’s all about effort. We looked bad against Northwest Rankin and made a couple of changes. With Ahmir coming in, it’s a good change. He’s a good listener and follows our lead. I like to lead and teach others and make sure I communicate and I think that’s helped.”

The offense is no mess, however. Starkville enters this key division matchup Friday night with Madison Central (6-1, 3-0) with one of the more balanced and explosive offenses in the state. The Jackets average 217 yards passing and 209 yards rushing per game this season and have outscored opponents 343-65 in seven games as they are beginning to rival some of the offenses in recent years that put big numbers on the board.

In four games this season, SHS has scored 50 or more points and have scored over 70 points twice. Last week’s 79-0 blowout of Greenville was the largest margin of victory in school history and was four points shy of a school record for points.

Meanwhile, the defense continues to be dominant for the Jackets, but the 27 points surrendered at Northwest Rankin loom large as they go into another tough environment tonight in the Jungle in Madison. The Jaguars have been among the more consistent teams in the division since Anthony Hart became coach and they’re looking for a district title. SHS looks to make sure that it doesn’t dig itself into a hole as the margin for error is zero if it wants a No. 1 seed out of the division and another regular season crown.

Jones isn’t concerned, but he’s anxious for this major test. After the way the Jackets showed up last week from the loss, he believes they’re right back on track with four games to go.

“I thought we handled (the loss) well," Jones said. "They accepted the things we taught them to get better and came out every day with great energy as if we didn’t lose the game. Nobody pointed fingers. I’m expecting them to play well again (Friday night).”