October 31, 2012 10:04:19 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Starkville Academy football team, the second season couldn't have come at a better time.
Starkville Academy (5-6) will open Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II playoff action at 7 p.m. Friday with a road trip to Senatobia for a game against Magnolia Heights Academy (7-3).
"Anytime you make the playoffs, there is a lot of excitement," Starkville Academy third-year coach Jeff Terrill said. "When you reach the playoffs, you want to be playing your best at the time. I feel like we are pretty close to that."
In the regular season, Starkville Academy led 14-6 but dropped a 25-14 decision to Magnolia Heights.
"Sometimes as a coach you can overthink things," Terrill said about a playoff rematch. "That game was in the third week of the season, and now this is the 12th week, so both teams are totally different.
"I do think you can look at the tape and make notes about some things you did well. You want to make sure to include those things in your game plan. But you can't depend too much on what happened the first time when so much of the season has been played since then."
In the other semifinal Friday night, Heritage Academy (5-5) will travel to East Rankin Academy (7-4). The winners will meet at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 in Clinton for the Class AAA, Division II state championship.
Starkville Academy lost to each of the other three playoff participants. It lost 34-29 at East Rankin Academy and 19-6 at home to Heritage Academy. Despite the setbacks, Terrill feels those matchups are a good thing for his squad.
"We were in each game and had a chance to win each of them," Terrill said. "I think the kids can take some confidence from knowing we competed with each of these teams. That tells them that -- going into the tournament -- they have a chance to beat any of the other teams."
Last season, Starkville Academy went 10-3 and was the state runner-up. It was a significant step after it won just three games in 2010.
Magnolia Heights has made a similar turnaround this season. The Chiefs went 1-9 in 2011
A year ago, Starkville Academy made its first playoff appearance since 2005 before losing 20-0 to Greenville Washington in the state championship game. This season, Starkville Academy has had more struggles. The Volunteers enter the playoffs fresh off back-to-back losses to East Rankin Academy and Presbyterian Christian School (34-14).
"I don't know if this season has really been a surprise to the players and coaches," Terrill said. "We knew going into the season we would be playing a lot of young players. We have shown flashes, but there also has been some inconsistent play. When we play to our potential, we are a good team."
Starkville Academy has won four of its games by shutout. It allowed only a touchdown in the other victory against Winston Academy. Against the deeper teams in the league, the Volunteers have struggled to maintain a rhythm on offense. On Friday, they will look to erase the memory of a heart-breaking last-second loss to East Rankin Academy that cost it a chance to play host to an opening-round playoff game.
"It's a new season and we are both 0-0," Terrill said. "Our job is to play well for four quarters and see if we can play again."