JACKSON – Time after time, it has been said that defense wins championships.
Starkville High did its part to reinforce that adage on Saturday night as the Yellowjackets held the Pascagoula Panthers to 11 points in a 28-11 win and claimed the 5A State championship.
“We played relentless defense,” Starkville linebacker David Fair said. “We knew we had to come out here and get it. Nothing was going to be given to us. Nothing has been given to us all season so we had to take the win.”
Not only was the defense able to hold the Panthers, but throughout the game the defenders forced five turnovers providing the offense additional scoring opportunities.
“Our defense, I don’t know what else I can say,” Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. “We put them in so many bad situations in the second half and they just kept answering the bell for us. If you don’t follow us much, you don’t realize how good we are back there. We have three seniors and a junior back there. They’ve been unbelievable all year long.”
The defense began its work from the very beginning as it managed to hold Pascagoula to a field goal on its first possession.
Proving this was going to be a team effort, the offense capitalized on the defensive hold by scoring a touchdown of its own.
The three points allowed on the first possession would prove to be the only ones allowed during the first half as the defense forced a couple of three and outs, held the Panthers on fourth down and picked off quarterback Stacey Warren late in the second quarter.
The interception by Fair set up another moment of teamwork for the Yellowjackets. Following the pick, Gabe Myles scored the third Starkville touchdown of the night to make it 21-3 heading into halftime.
Coming out after halftime, the Starkville defense was a bit slower during the third quarter but the unit did manage a fumble recovery by Marlow Rogers on the first Panther set of possessions.
The third quarter might have been slow for the Yellowjacket defenders but they made up for it in the final quarter of action.
Following a Myles touchdown to open the quarter, Johnny Smith picked up his first of three interceptions.
Starkville’s offense was unable to capitalize on the turnover, but it would not be long before the Jackets got their hands back on the football. On the very first play of the Panther possession, Smith lined back up on defense and intercepted Warren for the second time.
Back to back interceptions are certainly impressive, but Smith did not stop there. As Pascagoula was mounting one last drive in the final moments of the fourth quarter, Smith stepped in and picked off Warren for the trifecta and to placed the ball in Myles hands for victory formation.
While the interceptions and fumbles were quite impressive in themselves, the Starkville defense did not stop there. The Jackets also managed a pair of sacks by Kyle Jones and Maleke Bell.
In total for the night, Starkville secured five turnovers including four interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. The Yellowjackets gave up 96 yards passing and 149 on the ground for a total of 245 yards and held the Panthers to 11 points. Compare those statistics to the 459 given up in the 2011 title game and it is clear to see how much impact Starkville’s defense had on the game.
It was certainly impressive, but the defensive standout is nothing new for the Jackets who have only allowed an average of 12.3 points per game all season.
“They’ve done it all year long, game after game after game,” Mitchell said. “We shut out five of our division opponents and that is why we won this ballgame (Saturday night). Our defense just carried us.”