November 25, 2012 9:41:28 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell knew the ball was in the right place late in Friday night's North State Class 5A championship game.
Anytime Mitchell has the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Gabe Myles, he likes his team's chances.
Myles delivered in the most clutch situation possible. The Mississippi State University commitment completed a fourth down touchdown pass and rushed for a game-winning 2-point conversion as Starkville stunned Golden Triangle rival West Point 29-28 in overtime at Yellow Jacket Field.
"He makes plays," Mitchell said. "The bigger the stakes, the more confidence you have in Gabe. Sometimes, you don't know how, but you do feel like he will make a play."
With the victory, Starkville advances to the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A state championship game for a second straight season.
Region 2-5A champion Starkville (11-3) will face Region 4-5A third seed Pascagoula (11-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
"No one liked how last season ended," Myles said. "That has been the biggest motivation for this team the entire season.
"Our No. 1 goal was to get back to Jackson so that we can prove that we belong there. We are excited to be going back."
Last season did not end exactly how Starkville would have liked.
Playing in the state championship game for the first time since 2001, Starkville dropped a 38-21 decision to Picayune.
The Yellow Jackets actually erased a 17-6 halftime deficit to grab a brief 21-17 lead.
The Maroon Tide dominated the rest of the way, scoring three touchdowns to cruise to the victory.
"I think we learned a lot from last year," Starkville senior linebacker David Fair. "We didn't execute like we needed to in that final game but we learned a lot from the experience."
Starkville dethroned West Point in the second round of last season's playoffs. The Yellow Jackets then had no problems rolling over Ridgeland to reach the championship game.
Last season, the victory over West Point came after West Point had posted a 33-12 victory in the regular season.
That victory gave the Yellow Jackets the necessary confidence that they could also erase this year's 47-22 regular-season defeat to the Green Wave.
"They took it to us," Myles said. "But, we knew we had another chance in the playoffs. When we first played, we had some guys hurt.
"We have really grown up a lot during the course of the season."
Starkville battled back from a 1-3 start in non-region play. Granted, the losses were to Madison Central, West Point and Noxubee County -- each of whom also made it to the north state championship in their respective classes.
"We never got down because we knew what this team was made of," Starkville senior running back Preston Baker said.
The Yellow Jackets proved what they were made of Friday night, knocking off a rival and extending their own personal win streak to 10 games.
"I could not be prouder of a group," Mitchell said. "This is a special team. They believe in themselves and they play with a lot of confidence.
"They have the traits of a championship team."
Pascagoula knocked off Pearl River Central 17-10 to win the South State Class 5A title.
The Panthers pulled the surprise of Class 5A with a victory over defending state champion Picayune in the semifinal round.
Pascagoula has won three state championships, with the last coming in 1987. The Panthers have not played in Jackson since.
Starkville has won four titles, with the last coming in 2001.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter