November 23, 2012 9:10:37 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Rematch.
Very few words strike fear in as many hearts of coaches in all kinds of sports than the word rematch.
This season's high school football playoffs have been full of the do-overs. One will take place at 7 tonight when Starkville (10-3) and West Point (11-2) meet again for the Mississippi High School Activities Association North State Class 5A championship at Starkville's Yellow Jacket Stadium.
West Point won the regular-season meeting, 47-22 on Sept. 7 in Starkville. Another victory would send the Green Wave to Jackson for the Class 5A state championship game for the third time in four seasons.
Last season, West Point won the regular-season meeting 33-12, only to lose to Starkville 20-14 in the second round of the North State playoffs.
"It is all about focus," West Point senior defensive tackle Freddie Reed said. "Last year, we thought we could walk out there and win again. This year, we are more focused. Throughout the playoffs, we have been a more focused, more determined team. That is what it is going to take to win this game. We know we have the ability. We just have to have the focus."
Starkville Academy coach Jeff Terrill said earlier this season rematches can be good and bad. His team lost to Magnolia Heights 25-14 in the regular season. In the playoffs, Magnolia Heights won again, 40-28. Both games were in Senatobia.
"It is really hard to take anything away from when you play a team the first time, especially when it is early in the season," Terrill said. "By the time we played again, you were looking at two totally different teams. I do think you look at what you did well and you make notes of that.
"You don't want to have something that works well for you against a certain opponent and you forget to use it when the teams play again."
Heritage Academy had the opposite outcome in a rematch against Magnolia Heights. The Patriots lost 14-13 in a road game in the regular season, only to win 10-3 in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship game.
"I think playing again worked to our advantage," Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe said. "We took a lot of confidence from the first meeting. When you are playing for a championship, you want your team to have the confidence that it belongs, so since we had a one-point loss the first time, the kids were not intimated. They knew if we played better, we could win the game."
Tonight in Macon, a similar rematch will take place when Class 4A, Region 4 rivals Noxubee County (14-0) and Louisville (10-4) play for the North State championship.
Behind six touchdowns from Darrell Robinson, Noxubee County won the regular-season meeting, 41-28. While the Tigers won the first meeting, both coaches realize the Wildcats scored 14 more points than any other Noxubee County opponent this season.
"It is difficult to beat a really good team twice in the same season," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "That is why playoff rematches are difficult. By the time you get to a second meeting with somebody in the playoffs, that usually means you have gotten to a round where everybody is pretty good."
The Class 5A South State championship also is a rematch. Pascagoula (10-2) and Pearl River Central (11-1) will play tonight in Carriere. Pearl River Central won the regular season meeting 26-20 and is happy to be back on its home turf for part two.
Neither Class 5A, Region 4 rival won the region title. Pascagoula defeated region champion Picayune 27-10 in the second round of the playoffs. That rematch proved a contrast to the regular season where Picayune won 49-10 in a regionally televised contest.
In Class 6A, another series split created a major wrinkle in the playoffs.
Olive Branch became the state's top-ranked team after a strong start, which included a 31-28 overtime victory against Madison Central. With a spot in the Class 6A North State championship game on the line last week, Madison Central earned revenge with a 27-6 victory.
"A lot has happened since we last played," Starkville coach Jamie Miller said. "Each team has changed quite a lot. West Point has a great team. All you had to do was look at the first game to know that. Still, you can't get caught up in your opponent. You just go out and concentrate on your team and try to put some plays together."
Each team has won nine straight games. Starkville was 1-3 in non-region play, while West Point was 2-2. Starkville lost to Noxubee County (29-8), Madison Central (24-8), and West Point. West Point lost to South Panola (12-10) and Noxubee County (6-0). South Panola will take on Madison Central tonight.
Starkville battled through early season injuries to go undefeated in Region 2. West Point worked through some new faces in new positions on offense to piece together an undefeated run through Region 1.
Starkville allows 11.2 points per game, while West Point allows 11.8 ppg. Both offenses have matured and played strong football in the postseason. West Point has scored 94 points in two playoff victories, while Starkville has scored 73 points.
"We know the disappointment of losing in the playoffs, especially when you think you are the better team," West Point senior linebacker Antreon Bennett said. "We know we don't have any room for error because it is a big rivalry game. We are both playing for Jackson, so we are both going to give everything we got."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter