SHS, West Point meet with much on the line
Starkville's Stanley Higgins (6) fights for yardage in the earlier meeting this season against West Point. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By DANNY P. SMITH
A Starkville-West Point rematch in the Class 5A playoffs was something SHS football coach Jamie Mitchell felt was a possibility in September.
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Mitchell doesn't own a crystal ball, but the Jackets seeing the Green Wave again at this point of the season was something he and West Point coach Chris Chambless agreed could happen.
It has now become a reality.
"Both of us knew it would come back to this," Mitchell said. "(Tonight) is going to be an awesome experience for a lot of people on both sides."
Ever since SHS lost a 33-12 decision to its neighbors from Clay County, it has wanted another shot at the Green Wave
"It's exactly what we wanted," Jacket quarterback Gabe Myles said. "We wanted nothing less. The first game we really weren't ready and they got the win, but this game we want to leave no doubt that we deserve to win."
Starkville and West Point meet at Yellowjacket Stadium at 7 p.m. The Jackets can reach the North State championship round for the 11th time with a victory.
It's believed that the two schools have never met in the playoffs which puts more importance on tonight's encounter.
"It makes the stage that much bigger," Mitchell said. "The winner earns the right to play for a North Half championship. These games are always big, but you get (the rivalry) on top of it and it's that much bigger."
Having a game of this magnitude at home is something Mitchell doesn't take lightly. Starkville has won all seven games played at home this season.
"For us to get them at home is really special," Mitchell said. "Hopefully it will help. I've been asking for a crowd for about a month, I don't think I'll be disappointed (tonight). I think it will be jammed packed."
After dropping a 33-12 decision to the Green Wave in West Point, the Jackets haven't lost since.
Starkville (10-2) has an eight-game winning streak going and won Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 with a perfect 7-0 mark.
"If you had told me we'd win 10 games at the start of the season, I'd probably taken it," Mitchell said. "You get to this point and realize you are two wins away from Jackson. You want so badly to see the kids continue to have success. It builds trust in them to what we've been trying to teach them and what the coaches have been talking about is stuff that might work. Hopefully it will continue to help us in the offseason, but right now we don't even want to talk about that. We hope to continue this ride."
The Jackets advanced in the playoffs by defeating Hernando 42-28. It was a game where quarterback Gabe Myles threw for five touchdowns in the first half.
The performance very much impressed Mitchell.
"I've never had a quarterback throw for five touchdowns in a half," Mitchell said. "On top of that, he was 12 out of 14 so he only had two incompletions. What a pleasure to watch him play."
For the season, Myles has completed 98-of-191 pass attempts for 1,763 yards and 19 touchdowns. He is also the leading rusher for SHS with 620 yards on 153 carries and six scores.
"He has continued to get better as we go," Mitchell said of Myles. "If he doesn't do it with his feet, he does it with his arm. I think so many people underestimate his ability to throw the football. If you don't cover, he's going to hurt you. He's got the ability to extend plays and makes a lot of plays on busted plays."
Myles said he's settled into an offensive flow as the season has progressed.
"I've been able to read defenses a little bit better," Myles said. "I'm able to decide where I want to go with the ball and it's a whole lot easier."
Myles uses the players around him well as three different Jackets have at least 22 catches this season. The most productive has been Devin Mitchell with 31 catches for 786 yards and 10 touchdowns.
During his five-touchdown first half against Hernando, Myles hit Jimmy Saulsberry with a pair of scoring passes, while Devin Mitchell, Stanley Higgins and Preston Baker had one touchdown grab each.
Coach Mitchell said Myles "disperses the ball so evenly" and is glad to have different playmakers on offense.
"We're blessed to have several different guys where our opponents can't lock in on one particular guy," Mitchell said. "That certainly helps on offense when you feel like you have some guys you can spread the ball around and make you a little harder to defend."
As far as Starkville's defense, Dennis Ware could reach the 100-mark in tackle with a good game against West Point. Ware has 51 solo stops and 39 assists for 90 total with three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
Johnny Smith is the next Jacket on the tackle chart with 64 total.
Mitchell knows in a playoff matchup such as this there is going to be some give and take. It's his hope that Starkville is on more of the receiving end of things.
"You get two teams this close to each other and the talent is so close that sometimes it gets into things you can't control like a bounce of the ball and a break here or there," Mitchell said. "Sometimes you make your own breaks, but sometimes it's just the way the ball goes. If it does bounce our way, we need to have the ability to take advantage of it.
"I don't think either one has to play mistake-free football, but we've got to play great football. You hope for no turnovers and very minimal penalties. The last couple of weeks we've been able to really eliminate that. With our offense, we had one turnover (against Hernando) and that led to a touchdown, but that's a great lesson for us and we've harped on it. We've got to take care of the football at all cost."
Mitchell won't be disappointed if his punter Michael Newman, who averages around 35 yards per kick, gets a workout against the Green Wave.
"Punting is not going to be bad in this game," Mitchell said. "You've got to understand that you're not going to score every time you get it and you are not going to move the chains every time you get it. Punting is not a bad option. You just can't take chances."