By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Many in the state’s high school football universe thought someone other than Starkville and Pascagoula would be playing today in the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Gridiron Classic’s Class 5A state championship game.
Starkville, which lost in last season’s state title game to Picayune, started 2012 with a 1-3 record.
Pascagoula finished third in Division 4-5A behind Picayune and Pearl River Central. Both teams defeated the Panthers during the regular season.
Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell, whose team battled injuries and a tough early schedule, admitted he had some concerns about the Yellow Jackets’ chances of returning to the finals in Jackson.
“You start to question some of the things you’re doing,” he said. “I knew we had the playmakers. I thought if we could get the pieces in place, we had a chance to make a run.”
Starkville’s three losses were to Noxubee County, Madison Central and West Point, all playoff teams.
During their stumbling start, the Yellow Jackets played two games without quarterback Gabe Myles, who was battling an ankle injury. They also played nearly two games without defensive end David Fair, who was out with a knee injury.
“We faced as much adversity as you can early,” Mitchell said. “We made some moves and did some other things. You could see it coming.
“We never felt like an underdog; we were defending North half champions.”
To make this return to the state championship game even sweeter was last week’s 29-28 overtime win against rival West Point in the state semifinals.
The Green Wave defeated Starkville 47-22 on Sept. 7 on the Jackets’ home field.
“For Starkville fans, that was the state championship game, but not for the players,” Fair said.
DEFEAT THE GIANTS
Pascagoula principal Al Sparkman had a message for the Panthers’ players the morning after their 49-10 televised Oct. 4 home loss to Picayune: Be David, beat Goliath.
“He told our players to soak it in, take care of business, and they would be able to play (Picayune) again,” coach Lewis Simms said.
The Panthers won seven of their last eight games and toppled their Philistine division rivals – Picayune and Pearl River Central – in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the state playoffs.
“We still approach it as if we’re David looking for Goliath,” Simms said.