Game of the Week: District rivals Starkville Academy, Heritage Academy clash

Starkville Academy's Conner McLaughlin

Staff Writer

Football games between the Starkville Academy Volunteers and Heritage Academy Patriots always have the potential to come right down to the wire.

That was the case last year when the Vols won a 17-14 decision in Columbus as Noah Methvin found Raegan Richardson with a touchdown pass.

Starkville Academy senior offensive lineman Conner McLaughlin doesn’t see any reason why it won’t be different when the two teams meet at J.E. Logan Field Friday night.

“It’s a big game,’ McLaughlin said. “They are a good team. They have a bunch of good players and they are going to play hard. They are going to try and beat us. We are going to try and beat them.”

The Vols and the Patriots are neighboring rivals, being only separated by about 30 miles down Highway 82, but it’s also an important District 2-AAA encounter with both teams being 2-0.

For Starkville Academy head coach Chase Nicholson, this is the next key week of the season.

“As we’ve talked about from day one, you put everything behind you and focus on this week,” Nicholson said. “Every week is important because it’s this week. It’s no different this week. This is the most important because it’s this week.

“There is a little more excitement around it because it is Heritage. The rivalry gets better because it’s a district game. Whoever wins the game is in the driver’s seat for the district. There is a lot circling around it, but it’s still just the game this week and that’s what we’ve got to focus on. We can’t focus on all the extra stuff. We’ve just got to focus on the fact we are playing Heritage (Friday).”

Since it’s the last regular season home game, the Vols will also be recognizing their 12 seniors who have meant so much to the program.

It’s a group that has a chance to finish unbeaten at home for the second consecutive regular season.

Nicholson said that deserves to be celebrated.

“Guys have been around for a long time with some new faces that have joined us over the years,” Nicholson said. “It’s always an exciting night to have senior night. It doesn’t change the game, but it does make for an exciting night.”

The Starkville Academy seniors listed on the roster are McLaughlin, Ben Guest, Cade Vickers, Campbell Spivey, Taylor Arnold, Zak Kelly, Howell Archer, Nason Heflin, Nathan Pollan, Will Miller, Walker Tranum and Douglas Kelly.

The emphasis may be on the seniors tonight, but Nicholson said the freshmen that have moved up since the end of the junior varsity season have made a difference in practice.

“Our freshmen that moved up with us last week have really upped our practice tempo because we are getting more stuff done with them, we were able to rest some guys at some places and have more energy around,” Nicholson said. “The focus has been great and they have focused on getting better and doing all the things we’ve asked them to do each week.”

After winning the Class AAA State championship last season, the Vols have put together another outstanding season so far. With an 8-0 record, they have moved up to third in The Associated Press Private School poll this week.

Starkville Academy has won both both district games it has played so far by defeating Winston Academy 28-2 and Canton Academy 35-10. A victory over Heritage Academy tonight will give the Vols a solid advantage in the district with one game left at Leake Academy.

Arnold is inching closer to the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the Starkville Academy offense with 825 yards on 148 carries and 10 touchdowns. He entered the game as the quarterback last week.

Garrett Lewis has been the main signal caller throughout the season for the Vols and has completed 66-of-141 pass attempts for 914 yards and seven scores. The leading receivers are Heflin with 15 catches for 238 yards, Archer with 13 grabs for 215 yards and Zak Kelly with 18 receptions for 151 yards.

McLaughlin likes the way the offensive line has blocked to contribute to the offensive production, but said the defense continues to be solid.

“We have had people step up in roles and we’ve been able to rest some people on defense,” McLaughlin said. “It’s made us better over there.”

Will Miller and Matt Miller have 72 tackles each to lead the defense, while Willie Latham III and Spivey are next in line with 65 tackles each. Will Miller has six sacks and Arnold has four interceptions.