November 11, 2012 1:14:15 AM
BY DAVID MILLER
Special to the Dispatch
STARKVILLE -- During much of the 2012 season, the passing offense of the Starkville High football team has been hit or miss.
Granted, the Yellow Jackets (9-3) haven't needed to throw the ball much with a defense that's pitched five shutouts and a rushing offense that features three players with 500 yards or more.
But the postseason, unlike their stroll through district play, requires balance ... and a go-to passing target.
Friday, in Starkville's 45-7 Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoff win against Saltillo, Stanley Higgins cast his name as the passing game's beacon. The senior tight end registered season highs with four catches and 132 yards. He hauled in two touchdown passes, including a season-long 75-yarder from Gabe Myles. Higgins had just 172 yards entering Friday's game.
"Stanley is one of our go-to guys," said Jamie Mitchell, Starkville head coach. "He's such a hard guy to cover because he's got such a big body. We try to get him the ball in a lot of different ways."
The Jackets hope to get similar production from the passing game next week when they host Oxford in the second round of the playoffs.
Mitchell said the passing game has been a major focus in practice over the last few weeks, first starting with quarterback Gabe Myles, who was just 3-of-13 a week ago.
Myles rebounded nicely Friday, finishing with a season-high 166 yards on 8-of-12 completions. He added two passing touchdowns to go with a 45-yard score on the ground.
"We're trying to simplify some things in the passing game for Gabe -- not read as much and make it as easy for him as we can," Mitchell said. "If we're going to get down the road (in the playoffs), we've got to get better throwing the football."
Higgins said the Jackets eliminated mental mistakes and took advantage of the areas Saltillo gave them in the passing game. Higgins, who holds scholarship offers from the University of Memphis, University of Southern Mississippi, Louisiana University at Lafayette and the University of Kentucky, had a little extra juice with a Memphis coach walking the sidelines.
"They've been looking at me, so I knew I had to step it up," Higgins said. "We're trying to get to a championship, so we're all trying to take it to another level. I think we all kind of turned it up tonight."
Oxford (11-1) defeated Provine -- a team Starkville beat 23-6 -- 27-14 after leading by just three at halftime. Oxford's secondary has picked off 13 passes and gives up 13.8 points per game.
"We know we're going to need to run and pass the ball," Higgins said. "For us, it comes down to eliminating mental mistakes and playing hard. We've been here before; we know what we have to do."