By JOEL COLEMAN
WEST POINT – Coach Jamie Mitchell knows his Starkville club missed out on several opportunities Friday night in a 33-12 loss to rival West Point.
Still, when the Yellowjackets head coach reviews game film of SHS's tilt against the rival Green Wave, he'll be eyeing one particular play very closely.
Trailing 20-12 early in the third quarter, Starkville's Devin Mitchell scampered for what looked to be a 12-yard touchdown run for the Jackets.
Instead, officials ruled the SHS running back had fumbled the ball into and out of the end zone, resulting in a change of possession that sent Starkville into a downward spiral from which it wouldn't recover.
"I'm across the field (on the play), but I hope for the officials' sake it was a fumble," said Jamie Mitchell. "If it wasn't, that's a tragedy because that could have tied the ballgame."
Rather than being locked in a 20-all score however, the two-time defending Class 5A champion Green Wave set up shop on their own 20-yard line and went to work, putting together a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that stretched Starkville's deficit to 26-12 after a failed extra point.
The Jackets meanwhile never could seem to get back on their feet after their critical turnover.
"It was just one of those breaks you get from time to time," said West Point head coach Chris Chambless of the fumble that set up his team's scoring drive. "We got the break and when you get breaks, you capitalize off of them. We allowed some big plays, but then we made a big play. That's football."
The controversial Devin Mitchell fumble was a bit of an omen for the rest of Starkville's night.
SHS (2-2) fumbled away the ball on three of its four second-half drives, the lone exception being the final drive of the contest when time expired.
Before that point, West Point (1-2) extended its lead and capped the night's scoring courtesy of a 9-yard scoring run by Mario Virges, the third Green Wave back to score a touchdown in the second half, joining Aeris Williams and Delintez Lane.
The performances of Virges, Williams and Lane helped ensure West Point didn't drop its third-straight decision after the Green Wave began the year with losses to South Panola and Columbus.
Lane said the groundwork for his club's big win was actually laid in practice earlier in the week.
"The attitude was just to go hard, have good preparation and stay focused," said Lane. "(Chambless) told us we were going to come into this game and it was going to be very hostile... Last year, (SHS) had beat us. That had us real hyped up too."
Unfortunately for Starkville on Friday, the Jackets couldn't recapture their magic from last year's 21-20 win when SHS battled back from a 20-0 halftime hole.
It looked early on though as if Starkville might not even be in a position to have to battle from behind.
The Jackets opened up the scoring early in the first quarter.
After SHS quarterback Gabe Myles hit Jimmy Saulsberry for a 39-yard pass to the West Point 1-yard line, Myles scored on a keeper to put the Jackets up 6-0.
After a failed extra point, West Point started its ensuing drive from its own 20-yard line and immediately found pay dirt on an 80-yard pass from quarterback Dequinten Spraggins to William Harrell.
The Green Wave took a 7-6 lead on Eric Lemus' extra point.
Starkville answered in the opening moments of the second quarter.
Faced with a 4th-and-15 from their own 40, the Jackets faked a punt and Michael Newman hit Devin Mitchell for a 50-yard pass that pushed SHS to the Green Wave 5-yard line after a personal foul penalty against West Point.
Stanley Higgins then scored on a 5-yard run, giving Starkville a 12-7 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
West Point recaptured the lead later in the quarter when Lane scored on a 6-yard run, then the Green Wave extended their lead to 20-12 on Lane's other score, a 15-yard run, on the first drive of the third quarter.
Starkville's ensuing drive ended with Devin Mitchell's game-altering fumble.
Through it all, Jamie Mitchell just wasn't convinced his team was 21 points worse than West Point.
Before the 2011 season is done though, SHS's second-year leader hopes to know for sure.
"I don't know if the score was accurate," said Mitchell. "It was just two teams that were a little closer than that. Hopefully, we'll have another shot at them in the playoffs."