November 30, 2012 2:38:18 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Everybody involved with the Starkville High School football program can't think of a better way to end its time in Class 5A than by winning a new state championship trophy to put in its new fieldhouse.
"We aren't going down there with the intention of playing well. We have to win the football game and bring that trophy back to Starkville
for the first time in a long time," Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell said.
When Starkville (11-3) takes on Pascagoula (11-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, it will try to win its first state championship since 2001. Last season, Starkville lost to Picayune in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A State title game.
Starkville feels it already has played in a championship atmosphere following a 29-28 overtime victory against West Point High last week in the Class 5A North State title game in Starkville. Even before Starkville quarterback Gabe Myles scored the game-winning two-point conversion, Mitchell knew he had been a part of one of the greatest games in his 20-year coaching career.
"I think when you look at going through an entire high school game with that much on the line and there's no turnovers, you know both teams played at its highest level," Mitchell said.
Starkville hopes it can match that level and not have a repeat of last season. The team's troubles were compounded after the loss when its bus broke down in the downtown Jackson parking lot. The team didn't get home until close to 4 a.m. Sunday.
"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 we can prove that we belong there. We are excited to be going back."
Pascagoula defeated Pearl River Central 17-10 to win the South State title. It upset undefeated Picayune in the semifinals.
"I'm hear to tell you that the minute they knocked off the two teams they did to get here they got everybody's attention," Mitchell said. "They're not a typical No. 3 seed in the playoffs."
Pascagoula won the last of its three state championships in 1987, when former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Shane Matthews led the offense.
Pascagoula quarterback Stacey Warren has 1,766 yards (957 passing, 89 rushing) this season. He had 247 yards last week. The defense hasn't allowed more than 10 points in three playoff games.
"That quarterback really jumps out at you when you see them on film because of his athleticism," Mitchell said. "The defense is something we know will be aggressive, and I quite frankly see it as a possible low-scoring game."
The game also will have added significance for Mitchell, who has yet to win a state championship. But he said it will be a bigger night for his players.
"This is about the kids, but we make sure to explain to them they have the chance to do something special before they leave on to bigger and better things," Mitchell said. "This is about how they'd like to be remembered at Starkville High."