By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Starkville took an underdog mentality into the postseason and it paid off with the Yellow Jackets winning the program’s first state title.
The Jackets won the MHSAA Class 5A championship with a 1-0 victory over favored Pascagoula at Clinton High School’s Arrow Field.
“Our guys were confident going into the game,” said Starkville coach Brian Bennett, the Daily Journal’s 2012 Boys Coach of the Year in high school soccer. “We had played really well in the last four or five games headed into the championship.
“Our guys were not intimidated by all the reports that Pascagoula was the favorite.”
Pascagoula, led by forward Mitchell Cecatiello with 32 goals, had outscored its opponents 11-1 in the postseason and beat defending state champion Pearl in the playoffs.
Bennett, who is in his 14th season at SHS, went with four defenders in the back to make Cecatiello and Pascagoula work for a shot.
“We dropped our sweeper back,” Bennett said. “We didn’t let anything get behind our defense. We wanted to make them beat us in front.
“Our defense played really well all season. Pascagoula didn’t get a true shot on goal. That’s how well our defense played.”
Bennett thought in the preseason that this could be the year the Jackets went all the way. They had finished 20-2 the year before in 6A, before moving down a classification. He also had nine starters back from that team.
“I knew this year could be something special,” he said. “We’ve had good teams before, but always seemed to finish second behind Tupelo.”