Final night leaves mixed feelings

By John Wilbert | NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Lafayette High School football team didn’t spend as much time on the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium field after their state championship game victory as Starkville’s team did following their title game defeat.
Yes, Lafayette had to get off the field so that the MHSAA Class 5A championship game could be played Saturday night. And yes, the ‘Dores – winners of 32 in a row and back-to-back Class 4A state titles – took their celebration into the stands, in the moments after their 39-29 win over Laurel, so that they could enjoy the moment with their fans.
But it was the Starkville players walking up and down the Memorial Stadium grass more than an hour after the final seconds ticked off their 38-21 loss to Picayune in the 5A title game. At this point of the night, there were only three reporters left in the stadium’s press box and just a few stadium workers remaining at the site of the state championships.
And the reason for sticking around so late, to resurface on the field from the locker room instead of heading straight to the bus, besides it being such a tough loss to move on from?
Motivation for next year, said one senior player, who, at the same time, expressed his disappointment that he wouldn’t have another shot at a state title in the black and gold.
To let the loss sink in, he added. To get an idea of what it feels like to play for a state championship at the old college stadium and come up short.
So that in the offseason, those players returning next year will work even harder in an attempt to overcome that last obstacle, and to finish the season with a “W” instead of a painful loss.
“We didn’t get it done,” said junior quarterback Gabe Myles, one of 21 juniors on this year’s Yellowjackets team. “The seniors were supposed to leave with a championship ball, and we didn’t get it done. … Next year isn’t guaranteed.
“We got here this year, but we didn’t do what we had to and that’s it.”
The Commodores (16-0), on the other hand, did what they had to to prove that they are worthy of the state’s top overall ranking when the final polls come out this week.
“We feel like we’ve got the best team in Mississippi right now, we have no doubt about that in our minds,” said head coach Anthony Hart, whose Lafayette squad may end up sharing first-place votes with undefeated 6A state champion Olive Branch. “That’s how we’re supposed to feel.
“I feel good about our guys. But I saw two great teams on the field last night (in Friday’s Class 6A state championship game). They (Petal and Olive Branch) got great teams, there’s no denying that. But I’m gonna say right now our team’s good, too.
“And I know we’re 4A, and 4A’s not supposed to be mentioned with 6A. But we feel good about us.”
Commodores senior QB Jeremy Liggins was more adamant.
“It’s all right here in the heart,” the 6-foot-4, 270-pound quarterback said while beating the “Lafayette” on the chest of his jersey. “Man, I think we’re No. 1, baby.
“People put us down, say we can’t play with 6A teams. I think we can play anybody we’re matched up with because everybody on this team has heart.”
What’s next?
The player set to replace Liggins under center next year was the one defending passes in Saturday’s state championship game.
Brandon Mack – not to be confused with Justin Mack, the receiver who had a heckuva game Saturday – had an interception and two pass breakups against Laurel.
“We’re always going to be good,” the present-day defensive back said when asked about next year.
Despite he and the rest of the ‘Dores being victimized by Justin Mack, Laurel’s senior wide receiver, for four TDs (38, 9, 81 and 12 yards), he proved to be a good sport in the days leading up to the title game.
Although they aren’t related, the two Macks hit it off this past week thanks to Facebook.
“We looked on the Internet and he saw that my name was Mack and I saw that his name was Mack,” said Brandon Mack, a junior cornerback for the Commodores. “He got my number from Facebook.
“He called and we had a good conversation on Thursday.”
And the ‘Dores – just like the Yellowjackets – should remain good in 2012 despite several key losses.
Contributing: Blake Long.