November 21, 2012 4:52:39 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Thanksgiving Day typically brings family members and friends together for fellowship.
These meetings usually end with good will being wished and an understanding that somewhere down the line everyone will see each other again.
The same could hold true at 7 p.m. Friday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State championship football game between Starkville and West Point.
The teams will meet for one last time as Class 5A opponents. After meeting in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Starkville will move up to Class 6A next season.
"It is going to be strange (next season)," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "Each year, you had a feeling we would see each other in the regular season and in the playoffs."
This is the first time that Starkville and West Point have met in a North State title game. Starkville beat West Point 20-14 last season in the second round of the playoffs.
Each team played for North Half titles in 1984, but Starkville was in Class 5A and West Point was in Class 4A.
"The game would matter a lot even if we weren't playing for anything," West Point senior defensive tackle Freddie Reed said. "It is not like college where the players have come from all over. We have grown up with each other and we know one another. It is very intense anytime we play.
"Then you add a chance to go to Jackson, and that makes it unreal. Each year, we set the goal of going to Jackson and playing for a championship. I am sure Starkville set the same goals."
Starkville's victories against West Point and Ridgeland pushed it to Jackson last season, where it lost to Picayune 38-21 in the state championship. West Point won Class 5A state titles in 2009 and 2010.
The winner Friday will take on the South State representative -- Pearl River Central or Pascagoula -- at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 to determine the state champion.
"As a senior, this is how you want to go out," Starkville senior quarterback Gabe Myles said. "You want to play your rival for a championship. There is an excitement throughout the community. We are looking forward to playing the game."
West Point (11-2) and Starkville (10-3) finished undefeated in Region 1 and Region 2, respectively. Both teams are riding a nine-game winning streaks.
"The best thing about our team is our confidence level," West Point senior quarterback Tez Lane said. "We are not going to take any team lightly, but we have a lot of confidence in what we are capable of doing."
Mitchell and West Point coach Chris Chambless have repeated the same refrain this season: Concentrate on getting better at what we do and worry less about what the opponent does.
"At this time of the season, you can get caught up too much in the opponent and trying to do something different," Chambless said. "Each week, we come back to practice and worry about becoming the best football team we can be. We feel like if we take care of ourselves, we will always have a chance in the end."
This week also presents unique challenges. With each school out for the week, players and coaches can focus on the task at hand. West Point was scheduled to have today off, while Starkville was tentatively scheduled to have a walk-through.
"It really is great having school out," West Point senior linebacker Antreon Bennett said. "It has been all about football, football, football. That is the way we like it. We have been totally wrapped up in getting ready to play Starkville.
"This game will be even more hyped because everybody has that extra family member or two who will be here and able to go to the game."
West Point won the regular-season meeting, 47-22. But West Point won 33-12 in the regular season in 2011, only to have Starkville win in the playoffs.
"We are excited about another opportunity," Myles said. "When you don't play well, you like a chance to play again. We know how much we improved last year during the season. We feel like the same has happened this year."
The teams are expected to play a non-region regular-season game in each of the next two seasons. Realignment will come again and the two could reunite in 2015 and play for a North Half championship again.
However, that discussion is for another day.
For now, family and friends will gather Friday night and put their loyalties to the test. One side will end the evening with another reason to be thankful.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter