By JOEL COLEMAN
On what was undoubtedly a disappointing Saturday for the Starkville High boys soccer team as they fell to Madison Central in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, perhaps Yellowjackets senior Alvaro Pichardo summed things up best.
"They were the better team (Saturday)," said Pichardo of the Jaguars. "They just played better than us."
Madison Central spoiled Starkville's homefield advantage, used goals by juniors Jaylan Brown and Chase Rawson, and escaped with a 2-0 victory that vaults the Jaguars into Tuesday's North State title game against Tupelo.
Starkville's season concluded with a final overall record of 16-2-1.
"If people haven't had a chance to see (Madison Central) play, they should," said SHS head coach Brian Bennett. "They are really talented. They've got goal scorers, they've got speed and they've got touch. They've got speed in the midfield, big strong defenders in the back and good goalkeepers. They're the total package."
It didn't take long for the Division 3 champion Jaguars to flex their collective muscles on Saturday.
Brown broke away for the day's first goal in the eighth minute, putting Starkville in catch-up mode early.
The Jackets never could find a way to even things up, coming the closest when a Pichardo goal attempt from approximately 40 yards out hit the top crossbar and bounced away in the 46th minute.
"I wish I could have had that one back," said Pichardo.
Rawson gave Madison Central some late insurance with his goal in the 62nd minute, but it wasn't needed as the Jackets seemingly couldn't get the breaks to fall their way.
"Through the season (Madison Central) hasn't really given up a whole lot so I thought we really did well creating chances," said Bennett. "Alvaro hit the crossbar, Kase (Kingery) had his header cleared off the line from one of theirs on a header. There was a lot of physical play in the box and we were down there challenging so I was proud."
Despite the Jackets' efforts, which Bennett called "top-notch", the Jaguars were able to put an end to what has been a special year for Starkville.
"(Madison Central) is just stacked," said Starkville senior Garrett Batson. "They have players all over the field. There's not just one part of the field that they can control the ball in. It's all 11 spots. That's hard to beat."
Though Madison Central, not Starkville, will play on, the Jackets all indicated they will forever remember the 2010-11 campaign.
It was a year full of highlights, including a home win over rival Tupelo, a tie against perennial powerhouse Clinton and a first round playoff win over Horn Lake that put Starkville in the position they were in Saturday to begin with.
"We just had a team full of great guys," said Batson. "It's not just the games that were fun. It was the bus rides, the eating after games, and just every part of the game that makes it fun."
The enjoyment carried onto the field as the Jackets remained unbeaten until the regular season's final game.
That success granted Starkville entrance into the playoffs as the Division 2 runner-up and left them just three wins shy of a state championship upon falling Saturday.
Bennett believes coming so close to the ultimate goal will only serve to fuel his team's competitive fire in the 2011-12 season as the Jackets move down to Class 5A.
"We had a lot of juniors step up this year so they'll all be seniors next year," said Bennett. "We know next year could be pretty bright. We'll work hard in the offseason and be ready for next season."