September 30, 2012 1:54:55 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
JACKSON -- The Starkville High School football team answered a lot of questions Friday night.
One thing the coaches debated was whether the Yellow Jackets could handle a physically demanding football team on the road. After piling up 415 yards, including 317 on the ground, Starkville proved it is capable in a 23-6 victory against Provine in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2 game.
Provine (3-3, 0-2 region) scored its points in the first quarter on a 44-yard interception return by Tevin Carter. Carter jumped the read on a dump-off pass by senior quarterback Gabe Myles, who was pressured and tried to hit a double-covered Preston Baker out of the backfield.
The interception was the second turnover by Myles, who fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line on the opening possession.
"We should've closed this game out a long time ago," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We had too many mental mistakes and turnovers that killed ourselves."
Baker, who was limited in practice this week after returning from a severe ankle injury, was used as the primary tailback in each of the first three possessions for the Yellow Jackets (3-3, 2-0). While the senior had just 40 yards on seven carries, his presence as a speed weapon out could be a bonus.
"He's one of those kids that as long as he's standing, he'll play, just like (senior linebacker) David Fair," Mitchell said. "Our kids are just responding to any adversity, and that's great for a coach to see."
Starkville answered Provine's score in the second quarter thanks Myles' athletic ability. Myles led the Yellow Jackets down the field on designed runs and translated into a 24-yard field goal by Taylor Wise to take a lead into halftime. Myles finished with 187 yards (98 passing, 89 rushing) and two touchdown runs in his third start back after suffering a severely sprained ankle.
Provine never got its power-I formation running game going, as Starkville held it to 47 yards on 27 carries.
"We thought it would be our strength coming into the season and were surprised at how soft we were in that department after a few games," Mitchell said.
The Rams then opened up the playbook and put senior quarterback Ellis Dejuan in the shotgun. The move gave the 5-foot-10 athlete time to run or to allow wideouts time to get open against man-to-man coverage. The move didn't work, as Starkville has allowed just 59 yards rushing the past two weeks. It's a chance the Starkville coaches welcome after they emphasized the Yellow Jackets need to be better up the middle.
"I'm so pleased with our front seven and what they've been able to do in district play," Starkville High defensive coordinator Brooks Oakley said. "They've taken it personally how certain teams were able to run on us, and that's not what we're about defensively. We want to take you out of what you do well and beat us doing something else."
One of Starkville's halftime adjustments was to get the ball to senior H-back Stanley Higgins. Higgins responded, averaging 6 yards per carry in the second half.
"We thought we had a strategic advantage in the way they were lining up on that side if we ran somebody with more power like Stanley," Mitchell said.
Starkville also found in the fourth quarter it has a perfect play for a third-and-31 situation. While trying to run the clock with a lead, the Yellow Jackets gave the ball to sophomore Jaquez Horsley on a speed option play around the left end. Horsley made two players miss at the line of scrimmage and went untouched for a 76-yard touchdown scamper. He led all players with 102 yards on seven carries.
"On a play like that, it's about how well does the offensive line blocks," Horsley said. "I will say the line did a great job, and I had nothing in front of me to worry about."
Starkville will play host to Ridgeland on Friday in a battle of teams that played each other twice last season. Starkville beat Ridgeland twice on the road, once in the regular season and the other in the Class 5A North Half championship game.