September 29, 2013 1:13:27 AM
Football is a game of matchups.
How do your team's strengths and weaknesses match up with your opponent's strengths and weaknesses? How does your offensive line match up against the defensive line? How do your linebackers match up with your opponent's running backs?
As a coach, the answers can mean all the difference in preparation for the opponent. If you have an area where you feel your team has an advantage, you try to play to that strength as much as possible, even if it is something you don't normally do on offense or defense. You seek to maximize your strengths and expose the opponent's weakness. That was the case Friday night in Columbus for the Starkville High School football team, which used a talented wide receiving corps and a big game from senior quarterback Princeton Jones to pass its way to a 35-13 victory against Class 6A, Region 2 rival Columbus.
The first half saw both teams' defensive fronts control the line of scrimmage, which limited the other team's ability to run the ball. Columbus scored its touchdown on a 39-yard scoop and score by junior safety Alex Lipscomb after a fumble on a punt return.
Starkville tied the game at 7 with 24 seconds left in the half on a 15-yard quarterback draw by Jones. The Jackets worked the two-minute drill to perfection, as Jones hit 3 of 5 passes on the 63-yard drive, giving fans a preview of things to come in the second half.
"It was a battle out there in the first half between two pretty evenly matched football teams, with neither team being able to really establish anything offensively," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We figured out couldn't block them pretty quickly, so we knew we would have to go to the air if we were going to be able to move the football. We have a very talented receiving corps, and we felt if Columbus stopped our running game we could have success through the air if we could give our quarterback (Jones) time to throw, and Princeton threw some good balls and our receiver s made some plays."
Starkville (3-2, 1-0 region) rode the momentum from the first half and delivered an impressive scoring drive to open the second half. The Jackets took the kickoff and moved 67 yards in six plays, with Jones going 5 of 5 on the drive and hitting three receivers. The big play was a 41-yard corner route to sophomore wide receiver A.J. Brown that set the Jackets up at the 5-yard line.
After the only running play of the drive lost 1 yard, Jones found junior wide receiver Raphael Leonard on an out-route for a 6-yard touchdown that gave Starkville a 14-7 lead it didn't relinquish.
"Princeton is just miles ahead of where I thought he would be," Mitchell said. "He just keeps getting better, and we have big-time wideouts that can make plays, and they made a couple on that drive and it set the tone for the rest of the game."
After an exchange of turnovers and a short Columbus punt, Jones and company went back to work. This time, they covered the 35 yards in four plays, with Jones finding a wide open Leonard in the end zone for a 24-yard scoring strike that made it 21-7 after the extra point.
When asked about the Starkville passing game, veteran Columbus coach Tony Stanford said Starkville didn't do anything his team didn't expect. He just said Starkville just did a good job executing.
"They have big athletic wideouts, and we felt we matched up with them pretty well on the run game," said Stanford, whose team slipped to 2-3 and 0-1. "But knew if their quarterback had time to throw, it might cause us some problems. That (defending the pass) has been our Achilles' heel all season. ... It is something we work on every day in practice and will continue to work on to get better. Give Starkville credit. They made the plays and we didn't. We tried to be physical with their wideouts at the line of scrimmage and play man with a safety over the top, and in the second half they had some success on the flag route on us. They (Starkville) deserve all the credit. They deserved to win, and they did win."