JACKSON – When Jamie Mitchell took over the Starkville High School football program three years ago, he was trying to build something special.
He saw the hard work pay off Saturday night.
The Yellowjackets (12-3) beat the Pascagoula Panthers (11-3) 28-11 for the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A State championship on the campus of Jackson State.
"This is kind of where Starkville's supposed to be," Mitchell said. "This is our fifth championship and ninth one we have played for. This is where we belong. We want a dynasty here so bad. We just have to continue to build."
The Jackets lost in this game last year to Picayune, but battled back in 2012 to make a return trip.
"I don't know if I could have ever expected that," Mitchell said of back-to-back trips to Jackson. "To be in Jackson two years in a row is an incredible experience. This is special."
Many of players returning from last year's squad felt comfortable when they arrived in Jackson this year.
"Last year we came in here looking to win the game, but we came up a little bit short," senior running back Preston Baker said. "It was motivation. We weren't nervous because we were here last year. We were just here to win it. It's a great feeling. There's nothing like it. I have been with these seniors for a long time. Playing pee wee football with them and everything. We have come a long way."
The Jackets won their fifth overall State championship and their first since 2001. It is Mitchell's first ever title as a head coach.
"This is 23 years and this is the first," Mitchell said. "There are no words to describe this feeling. None."
The Jackets got off to a slow start this season, but rebounded and finished out the year on a 11-game win streak.
SHS also played with heavy hearts. Jacket senior Devin Mitchell passed away on Jan. 1. This season has been in his honor.
"It's devastating," Baker said. "This year we were just doing it for (him). We really miss him and love him. He carried us a long way last year."
The Panthers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Senior place kicker Grant Warren connected on a 43-yard field goal with 7:52 remaining in the first half.
The Jackets ripped off 21 unanswered points in the first half.
Starkville went with a trick play on its first scoring drive. Senior quarterback threw to junior wideout Princeton Jones who pitched it to Darius Grayer for a hook-and-ladder. Grayer scampered 21 yards for the score.
"We have been working on that for several weeks and it just seemed like the right time to pull it out," coach Mitchell said. "It was third and long. Thank goodness it worked."
Junior kicker Charlie Henderson made the extra point and SHS held a 7-3 lead with 3:23 left in the first quarter.
Baker ran it in from 4 yards out with 5:18 remaining in the second quarter.
SHS senior linebacker David Fair picked off a Stacey Warren pass at the SHS 45-yard line. He returned it to the 1-yard line.
"It was a good moment and it was a good feeling," Fair said. "I almost got in there. I gave it my all to get in there. A lot of people don't even get the opportunity to get a pick, let alone be here."
Myles dove in from 1 yard out to give the Jackets a 21-3 halftime lead.
"Offensively, when we didn't hurt ourselves we did some good things," Mitchell said.
The Panthers came out in the second half and rattled the Jackets.
SHS junior linebacker Marlow Rogers recovered a Pascagoula fumble on the SHS 4-yard line.
The Panthers held strong and tackled senior tight end Stanley Higgins in the end zone for a safety and cut the lead to 21-5 Jackets.
Pascagoula used a pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff and recovered it. However they only managed two Grant Warren field goals. Warren hit from 34 and 18 yards.
"They have done it all year long," coach Mitchell said of his defense. "That's why we won this ballgame (Saturday). They carried us."
The Jackets ended with 304 total yards of offense to the Panthers 245.
Myles was 9-of-14 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown. He picked up 42 yards on 11 carries.
"Gabe Myles is a phenomenal player, but a 100 times better person," coach Mitchell said. "He is a class, class guy. We wouldn't be here without him."
Baker led the rushing attack with 111 yards on 18 attempts and one score.
"I thought we played great," coach Mitchell said. "I just believe in our guys."