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By JOEL COLEMAN
The 9th grade Starkville football team hadn't lost a game all season coming into action Tuesday night.
Jaquez Horsley made sure that New Hope wouldn't become the first team to knock the Yellowjackets off.
Even after Starkville took an 8-0 deficit into halftime marking the first time the Jackets had trailed at the intermission all season, Horsley stepped up in the second half with a pair of electric touchdown runs to give Starkville a 14-8 home win.
"All I was thinking about is we were down and we needed to come back," said Horsley. "All coach was telling me was to get a great run and get a touchdown."
Horsley more than delivered for Starkville head coach Chris Carlisle and the Jackets.
Midway through the third quarter with Starkville opening a drive in New Hope territory, Horsley busted loose for his first touchdown run on the first play of the possession, a 39-yard sprint that brought the Jackets to within two points at 8-6.
Horsley's arm helped Starkville tie the game as he found Keon Higgins on a passing play for the two-point conversion.
Horsley was far from done.
With just over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Horsley came through with what turned out to be the game-winning score, delivering an awe-inspiring 93-yard touchdown run that saw Horsley cut to the outside on his way to the end zone.
"Only thing that was going through my mind was touchdown," said Horsley of his long run.
Horsley's clutch scamper wasn't too much of a surprise to Carlisle. The Starkville leader knew his multi-positional athlete had the capability to come up with a big play.
"He's a home-run hitter for us," said Carlisle of Horsely. "But you know, the guys up front though, when we had to have it they came through and set the edge. Guys like Jay Clay, A.J. Smith and Darren Ford."
The Starkville comeback also wouldn't have been possible if not for the solid play of the Jackets defense.
While Carlisle's first-team defensive unit gave up just its second touchdown of the season in the first quarter, Starkville responded by blanking New Hope the rest of the way.
"This defense, they fly to the ball," said Carlisle. "It's hard to score on them."
New Hope found out as much Tuesday night. Behind Starkville's solid defensive play and Horsley's athleticism, the Jackets are now a perfect 4-0 with games left against Louisville, Kosciusko and West Point.
"This was a learning experience for us (Tuesday)," said Carlisle. "We were down at the half, and just learned that when things aren't going right, we have to find a way to pick ourselves up.
"Early in the game, we had some turnovers, a little adversity, but we found a way to step up, make some stops and come up with the big plays when we needed it."
While the 9th grade Jackets were able to come through in the clutch, the 8th grade Starkville team wasn't as fortunate, falling 8-0 to New Hope earlier on Tuesday.
The loss moved the 8th grade Jackets to 1-3 for the season.