When Magnolia Heights head football coach Cliff Young brings his team south to Starkville Academy on Friday night, the objective is clear – win, or else.
If the season ended today, Young's Chiefs would find themselves on the outside of this year's playoffs looking in. To have any hope of changing that, Magnolia Heights must win its final two games, this week against the Volunteers and next week against Jackson Academy.
Even in that scenario, the Chiefs would still need help in the form of a Washington Academy loss, but all Young is worried about is dealing with his team's business, first against SA.
"We've got to take care of our end," said Young. "I personally feel like (Starkville Academy) is an outstanding football team. We went over and watched them play Lee Academy last week and I was real impressed. They can move the ball well, they play good, sound defense, so we've got a tall order Friday night."
Magnolia Heights (6-2, 3-2 in Class AAA) has had to battle through several key injuries to even get to this point.
Most notably, senior starting running back Ben Billingsley was lost for the year on September 10 against Washington.
Senior quarterback Mac McDonald has also been dealing with "a nagging injury all year" according to Young.
Luckily for the Chiefs, their make-up has enabled them to weather these storms.
"We've got a senior-laden football team," said Young. "Most of the guys that are playing or starting right now are seniors who have at least two years of playing experience under them. That's the biggest thing that has contributed to our success this year, just our senior leadership and the experience the guys have at their positions."
Young is glad to go to war with such a veteran group down the season's stretch run, but that still doesn't alleviate his concerns about facing the Vols on their home turf come Friday, citing the many threats SA possesses.
"(Starkville Academy) quarterback (Kyle Henson) does an outstanding job of running that offense," said Young. "They've got a couple of nice fullbacks, plus wings that can run and catch. The minute you forget about the pass and start committing folks up on the run, they'll hit you with a pass. We'll have to make sure we're in the right spot every time the ball is snapped, that's for sure."
Friday's game kicks off at 7 p.m.