By Brandon Shields/Special to the Journal
CLINTON – Starkville High School was not known for its boys soccer prowess, but sophomore Justin Gordon and his teammates took a big step on Saturday toward changing that.
Behind a stellar defense and the play of the speedy Gordon, the Yellowjackets scored a 1-0 victory over heavily favored Pascagoula to claim the MHSAA Boys Class 5A state championship.
“I can’t be more happy for this team right now,” said coach Brian Bennett after Starkville cashed in on its first trip to the boys soccer championship game. “They played under adverse circumstances all year long and they deserved this.”
Gordon scored the lone goal in the 35th minute off a wellplaced pass from senior teammate Kase Kingery.
“Kase sent me a good ball and I looked up at the goal and just barely chipped in,” Gordon said. “It feels great winning it for my coach and for the seniors.”
The Yellowjackets finished 15-4 and claimed the championship by playing good defense throughout and surviving a wild finish in which they withstood several Pascagoula scoring attempts.
Two shots by the Panthers in the final minute were off the mark, while another was grabbed by Starkville goalie Addison Watson, who made seven saves in the shutout.
The Panthers came in as the favorite, having outscored their opponents by a combined 11-1 in three playoff victories, including a 1-0 win over defending state champion Pearl.
The Panthers (20-5-1) outshot the Yellowjackets 11-7 and dominated the second half, but they couldnπt convert on their scoring opportunities.
“That was the story the whole game,” Pascagoula coach William Denton said of his team’s missed opportunities. “We just weren’t able to possess the ball enough and get good control of the game.”