Starkville High School coach Jamie Mitchell’s Yellowjackets pulled off an upset of West Point on Friday night. “You could sense on the sideline something special was fixing to happen,” he said. Photo by: Jason Browne Buy this photo.
September 13, 2010 10:11:00 AM
The Starkville High School Yellowjackets finished 4-9 last year and began this season with consecutive losses. The West Point High School Green Wave went 14-1 to claim the 5A state title last year and was riding a 16-game win streak after beating one of the Top 10 teams in Florida''s 6A conference on the road last week.
There wasn''t much reason to expect an upset when the two teams met Friday night in West Point. But that''s exactly what happened as the scrappy Jackets fought back from a 20-point first-half deficit to steal a 21-20 victory literally at the last minute.
For first-year Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell, the win illustrated a point he''s been preaching to his players since arriving on the scene this summer; that they could compete with any team in the state. If the players weren''t buying that line before Friday, Mitchell says they are now.
What were your players'' attitudes and expectations like when you took over at Starkville?
They wanted to win desperately. I''ve made a living going to programs that were down and turning them around. (Mitchell previously was head coach at Ripley, Charleston, Olive Branch and Itawamba Agricultural.) But anywhere, you''ve got to win over the kids first. I had to start inside the head and work out to the body after we got (to Starkville).
What were your players expecting Friday night?
The first three games of the season we realized we can play with anyone. We took (2008 5A champs) Meridian to the wire. We played with (2008 4A champs) Noxubee County. I don''t think there was any doubt we could play with West Point. We''ve been in two close ones and lost them and just had to find a way to win.
West Point are reigning champs and just came back from Florida with a big win. Were your kids buying the hype?
I''ve been in this business a long time. I think everybody knows the rivalry between Starkville and West Point. It''s as big as any rivalry in the state. They didn''t need any pumping up for this one. It''s amazing to see what this game means to this town. It''s one of those games you love to be right in the middle of.
What was the atmosphere on the sidelines?
It was frustrating in the first half because we didn''t play with much confidence. We really challenged our guys at halftime and went out and got a stop on the first series. Then you could really feel the momentum start to turn. You could sense on the sideline something special was fixing to happen.
What did you say to your men at halftime?
I can''t tell you all that. It''s probably not printable. I told them we''ve come too far and we weren''t going to go back to the way things were and doubt ourselves or whether we deserved to be there. I just pounded on them that they could play with these guys.
What did it take to get your defense dialed in for the second half?
The defense played great the first three weeks (of the season). We had to find our identity on offense. (West Point) got the ball first in the second half and I thought that would be the deciding factor. If they took that drive and scored, I knew it would be an uphill battle at best. When we got a stop I thought that was the difference-maker. I didn''t know if we would win, but I knew we''d be in it.
How did you prepare your defense in practice?
Any time you play West Point you know you''ve got to stop the run. They have a great tailback in Lakenderic Thomas.
We told the secondary they had to play a ton of man coverage and put as many people as possible in the box to stop the run. We stymied the running game and we bent but didn''t break.
You know the caliber of athletes West Point has, so how important was conditioning in the prior week?
We''re playing so many kids on both sides of the ball and West Point wasn''t. We don''t have the same kind of depth yet. That takes time. So I was concerned about that. It was a muggy night, humid, and that takes a toll when you have to play on both sides of the ball.
There''s no substitution for heart. In the fourth when we were one touchdown away (from taking the lead), it sounds corny but I thought our guys had a little more grit than they did.
The last drive was a thing of beauty. It shows our growth.
What was the atmosphere among the kids after the game?
Our locker room was just electric. The sidelines erupted when we won. It''s been a long time since we beat West Point so that''s a monumental win for us over a great football team. I told them in the locker room that''s one they''ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Was that the craziest game you''ve been a part of?
I''ve seen a lot of strange things. I was talking to the coaches about it Friday night. I don''t think I''ve ever been part of a 20-point turnaround. I''ve seen balls punted backwards. I''ve seen kickers miss the ball on kickoffs. All kinds of gadget plays. West Point ran one last night and scored on us.
When you''re dealing with 15-, 16- and 17-year-old guys it can get comical.
What are you doing to treat yourself today (Saturday)?
I''m in Fulton today. I''ve got a daughter who''s a senior at Itawamba Agricultural. I didn''t want to make her move her senior year so I come home and see my wife and kids on the weekend. That''s been tough but it''s just for one year and we''re all making the best of it.
My daughter actually won homecoming queen at Itawamba so we''re out looking for dresses. We''ve made one dress stop and we''re headed to the next one.
How much input do you have in the dress selection?
I just get to ride and watch. Her and her mom make those decisions. I give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down but my vote doesn''t count. I just get to pay for it.
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