August 17, 2013 11:20:38 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - Saturday night showed the conservative road map that Starkville High hopes to ride through the early games of the 2013 season.
The defending Class 5A state champion Yellowjackets didn't turn the football over, dominated the line of scrimmage on defense and were nearly flawless on special teams in a 17-7 victory over New Hope in the Trojans jamboree at Davis Wade Stadium. With nine new starters on offense, Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell wasn't pleased with the lack of efficiency but saw more progress when the youthful offense was given short fields to work with.
"We've got weapons and playmakers but the one thing I was proud of was we had zero turnovers and that will always give you a chance to win any game," Mitchell said. "I will take that this season 100 times out of 100 because we expect our defense to get the football."
In his first possession under center, senior Princeton Jones took the SHS offense down the field for a touchdown on a six play, 40 yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard Jaquez Horsley touchdown scamper. The junior tailback, who had 777 yards last season, showed his shifty moves by making two New Hope defenders miss on one cut that gave him a wide open break for the end zone.
Jones, who finished 4 of 11 for 93 yards, went back to his wide receiver routes on the Yellowjackets final touchdown as he took an option carry 12 yards for the score. The 6-foot-1 athlete made one defensive end and leaped a safety on his way to making it a 14-0 SHS lead.
"He just has to get a better grasp of the game from that look under center in terms of down and distance situations," Mitchell said. "We know that will come with experience because everything he's doing is upstream mentally right now."
The key element that was showcased Saturday was Starkville's defensive front having nonstop ability to get up the field and pressure New Hope quarterback Brady Davis. Six of SHS's starting front seven return from the defense led by coordinator Brooks Oakley. The pressure came mostly from 255-pound sophomore Maleke Bell as he made a tackle for three-yard loss on the first play of the game.
"We know in Class 6A that teams will be better at throwing the football and we have to be prepared for it," Bell said. "We did okay but we can do better. My teammates have made me feel like I'm they're little brother, even though I'm not that little."
Bell's big number 68 jersey being constantly in the backfield even after being double-teamed completely eliminated any hope for a New Hope running game, which accounted for just three yards.
New Hope's new shotgun-tempo offense brought by new head coach Shawn Gregory showed flashes of being able to spread defenses out through the pass game. The Trojans touchdown came on a 82-yard touchdown strike from Davis when the senior quarterback went to a deep throw with the SHS defense having only one safety back deep.
Davis finished Saturday evening 12 for 25 for 167 yards and a touchdown pass.
"He's comfortable with what we're doing already in terms of the scheme and now we just have to get him to understand situational football," Gregory said. "He's going to be really special this season and there's no question he'll be the Cadillac of what we're doing offensively."
Starkville spent the entire evening revealing what Mitchell has called in the preseason "possibly the state's best special teams unit" as Michael Godley averaged 42.3 net yards over three punts. The junior also barely missed on field goals from 54 and 42 yards but both kicks had enough distance.
Starkville will hope their conservative game plan will be enough next week as they open the 2013 regular season with a battle between the defending Class 5A and Class 4A state champions when SHS travels to Noxubee County High School. New Hope will see Gregory coach his first regular season game at the high school he attended when the Trojans open at home against Caledonia.