Vols top Pioneers 7-5 to clinch playoff berth
Starkville Academy's Ryan Mann (33) runs with the ball against Parklane on Friday with protection by Cole Phelps (61), Angus Catchot (66) and Drew Pellum (5). (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
As Starkville Academy quarterback Drew Pellum ran backwards Friday night at J.E. Logan Field, the Volunteers cemented the fact that they'll be moving forwards.
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Clinging to a 7-3 lead with just seconds to play hosting Parklane, Pellum took a snap at the Vols' 47-yard line and ran towards his own end zone, surrendering a safety, running out the clock and locking up SA's 7-5 win.
In the process, Starkville Academy clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2005.
Getting to such a point was anything but easy for the Vols on Friday however, as SA survived a string of costly penalties and first-half turnovers to ultimately turn away Parklane.
"You are excited that when you go through an 11-game season, you're going to have to win games different ways," said SA head coach Jeff Terrill. "A great defensive effort overall and we found a way to win. That's what's important."
Starkville Academy (7-1 overall, 3-1 in conference play) scored its lone points of the game late in the first quarter.
After Parklane (5-3 overall, 1-2 in conference play) fumbled on a punt return, Starkville Academy recovered and set up shop at the Parklane 24-yard line.
Six plays later, Ryan Mann busted into the end zone for the Vols, giving SA a 7-0 lead that the Pioneers could never overcome.
Mann said he wasn't surprised his early score ended up being the decisive points.
"The way our defense has been playing, I knew it could," said Mann, who finished with 92 rushing yards on 23 carries. "We've been playing great defense this whole season and I knew our defense was going to step up."
Parklane crept closer to SA in the closing moments of the second quarter.
Starting at their own 40-yard line, the Pioneers put together a half-closing drive that concluded with a 22-yard field goal off the foot of Zack McDaniel that cut SA's lead to 7-3.
Both teams battled through a scoreless third quarter before Starkville Academy threatened to extend its lead in the early moments of the fourth quarter.
The Vols were thwarted however when Parklane put together a goal-line stand that seemingly swung the momentum in the Pioneers' favor.
Though Parklane was able to advance the ball down the field for a pair of first downs, the Pioneers were ultimately forced to punt the ball back to Starkville Academy, thanks in large part to a critical personal foul penalty that left Parklane with a 4th-and-long situation.
The Pioneers never got the ball back.
After punting the ball away, Parklane head coach Bo Milton knew his team had missed a potentially golden opportunity.
"I thought, especially after we got a couple first downs and got the ball out, if we could have just hit one more play, you just never know," said Milton. "I hated to punt because I knew we probably wouldn't get the ball back, but the penalty kind of forced our hand."
Once Starkville Academy regained possession, the Vols worked the clock down to just six seconds to play before being faced with a fourth-down decision.
That's when the call was made to let Pellum sprint backwards and run out the remaining time.
"You don't have many choices there," said Terrill. "You certainly didn't want to punt it.
"(The play) worked, so we're all smiling, but I don't think I've every taken a safety from that far back."
It was indeed an unusual ending to a tightly-contested game.
Yet in the end, Mann emphasized that good teams are able to win games by any means necessary.
"You've got to pull out games like this if you want to make it to the playoffs, win games in the playoffs and then win that state championship, which is what our goal is," said Mann.