By JAMES CARSKADON
For Starkville Daily News
After an offseason of renewed hope around the Starkville Academy football program, Jeff Terrill’s Volunteers lived up to the hype in Friday night’s season opener.
Behind a three-touchdown rushing performance from junior Colby Runnels, the Vols (1-0) trounced MHSAA opponent Saint Andrews 38-3.
Runnels’ 187 yards on the ground led the Vols in a game where they racked up 359 yards rushing. Starkville Academy backed up the ground game with a defensive effort that only allowed 95 yards to the Saints.
After a string of losing seasons, an opening night takedown of a public school team was exactly what the Vols needed to turn around the team’s mentality according to Runnels.
“It’s been a long time since Starkville Academy ever had a winning mentality,” Runnels said. “For us to come out here and win like that does a lot for the turnaround of the program.”
The scoring started on the first drive of the game for the Volunteers in a possession that took over 7 minutes off the clock. The 80-yard drive ended with quarterback Drew Pellum taking scoring a 9-yard run. An extra point from Jonathon Burton gave SA a 7-0 lead with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
The Saints responded with a long drive of their own, marching to the Volunteer 12-yard line before the drive stalled thanks in part to an open-field tackled by James Mapp. Saint Andrews’ Thomas Wilson kicked a field to bring the score to 7-3 with 9:25 left before halftime.
From there, it was all Volunteers. A 9-yard touchdown run by senior Ryan McKell was followed by Runnel’s first touchdown of the night, extending the Starkville Academy lead to 21-3 by halftime. The Volunteers scored on all three of their first half possessions.
Midway through the third quarter, Burton booted a 37-yard field goal to extend the Vols’ lead to 24-3. Two more Runnels touchdowns, the last of which was an 87-yard run gave SA the 38-3 win in a rout.
Terrill, now in his second year as the head coach at SA, attributed the team’s success to its physical play.
“I thought we played physical,” Terrill said. “There are some certain areas we’ve got to get better on. Things that were our strengths, we leaned on them tonight.”
The Volunteers were lead on defense by Jordan Bright, Angus Catchot and Mapp. Ryan Mann helped pace the offense with 68 yards rushing, followed by 35 yards and a touchdown from McKell.
While Runnels breakout performance of nine carries for 197 yards and three touchdowns might have surprised some in the stands at J.E. Logan Field Friday night, it certainly did not come as a shock to Terrill.
“I’m not surprised at the success the young man had tonight,” Terrill said with a smile.
The Volunteers will look to carry the momentum of their 38-3 triumph into Columbus next week when they travel to take on Heritage Academy.