By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – Saltillo head coach Pat Byrd and his squad faced a new experience on Friday night. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience – but in the big picture, it was a step in the right direction.
In the program’s first appearance in the Class 5A playoffs, the Tigers fell behind early and never recovered in a 45-7 loss to Starkville.
Saltillo finished the season 7-5 while the Class 5A North State defending champions moved to 9-3 and will host Oxford on Friday in the second round.
“We will appreciate this season a little bit more later on,” said Byrd. “But right now we just got our butt whipped by a really good football team. The kids battled and fought but we were just out-manned in certain spots.”
Those first-time playoff jitters for the Tigers were obvious in the early going. Starkville jumped to a 24-0 lead in the opening quarter thanks to a pair of Preston Baker touchdown runs and a 45-yard touchdown scamper by 2013 MSU commitment Gabe Myles.
tigers claw back
Saltillo did manage to get on the board in the second quarter and cut the lead to 24-7. Quarterback Andrew Soper tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Fidram early in the second quarter.
But it did little to damper the Jackets’ momentum. Myles closed out the first half with a touchdown pass to Stanley Higgins and the Jackets held a comfortable 31-7 lead at the break. A pair of Saltillo first-half turnovers also directly led to 10 points for the Jackets.
“It was that deer-in-the-headlights look,” said Byrd. “Starkville was playing faster than we were and that’s not a good thing in this situation. But it was a new environment for our kids and we will learn from it.”
Saltillo finished with just 238 yards of offense and most of that total was generated by Soper, who rushed 25 times for 148 yards and had the passing touchdown. Starkville finished with 438 yards and 272 of that total came on the ground. Baker finished with 13 carries for 141 yards and two scores and Myles added 78 more yards on the ground.
“We never really got behind the chains and that’s a big plus for us,” said Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell. “Baker was outstanding tonight and we were really good up front tonight. We haven’t been real efficient lately in the run game but we did a good job tonight.”