Starkville reached the top of the mountain in December, then immediately got a new challenge.
The Class 5A champion Jackets haven’t slowed with their most recent move to 6A. There will be no time to slow down tonight at 6A king South Panola (12-1) in the MHSAA state quarterfinals.
“We know what we’re up against. It’s a heck of hill to have to climb,” Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said.
The winner will face either Tupelo or Madison Central in next week’s North championship.
Defending 6A champ Panola is led offensively by running back Darrell Henderson, whose 1,900 rushing yards is the fourth-highest total in the state.
Starkville (9-3) has gotten here behind surprising quarterback play from senior Princeton Jones, who has notched 1,820 passing yards and 20 TDs.
“We lost a great group of kids and 26 seniors,” Mitchell said. “Our quarterback has way overachieved what we thought he could. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are. A lot have stepped into big shoes.”
Oxford puts its 12-0 mark on the line against Pearl (11-2). Quarterback Jack Abraham is one of a large number of big-time sophomores. He has thrown for 2,721 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Lafayette (9-5) held Greenwood scoreless in a 7-0 win last week. The Commodores won’t find it any easier to score against defending Class 4A champ Noxubee County. After starting 2-3, the Tigers (10-3) have allowed more than 7 points only twice.
North Pontotoc refused to end its unexpected run last week. The Vikings notched their 10th win with a two-point conversion stand in overtime at Kemper County.
This test is the biggest, with 11-1 Charleston visiting. The Tigers are allowing only 11.3 points per game.
Two teams remain from vaunted Division 4-2A. That’s Eupora – at Baldwyn – and division champ Calhoun City – hosting West Bolivar.
“From us, we’ve just got to be us, keep playing tough against the run, keep being able to run the football,” Baldwyn coach Michael Gray said. “They’re well-balanced and well-coached. A little smaller than usual, but they’re still Eupora.”
Heated Monroe County rivals Smithville and Hamilton have already had one battle – a 13-12 Hamilton win. If there is another, it would be for the 1A North title.
Tonight, Hamilton hosts St. Aloysius. Smithville is at Shelby Broad Street.