September 5, 2009 11:09:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- It was not the prototypical game for the defending state champion Meridian Wildcats, but they''ll take a victory anytime they can get one.
Despite 11 penalties and four turnovers, the Wildcats did enough to defeat the Starkville Yellow Jackets 27-10 on Friday night.
Leading 8-3 midway through the third quarter, the Wildcats blocked a Wesley Montgomery punt and Shaquille Pluker returned it 50 yards untouched for the touchdown.
Meridian (3-0) scored touchdowns on its next two drives to put the game away early in fourth quarter.
"I am not pleased with how we played," Meridian coach Larry Weems said. "I don''t know who we think we are that we turn it over on our first three drives and expect to win. It''s hard to win with penalties and turnovers. Just too many mistakes from us tonight."
Junior quarterback Antoine Atkins accounted for 302 total yards (133 rush, 169 pass) and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats, who beat South Panola last year to win the Class 5A state title.
Meridian and Starkville both moved up to Class 6A with the state''s reclassification to six classes.
Atkins, too, wasn''t perfect, as he fumbled on the Wildcats'' second and third drives to give the Jackets an early opportunity.
Starkville (0-3) turned the first fumble into a 20-yard field goal from Cody Berryhill.
The Yellow Jackets had opportunities to extend the lead, but a combination of dropped passes and untimely miscues killed their chances.
"The effort was definitely there, but the execution was not," Starkville coach Bill Lee said. "We are still not getting any big plays. We are constantly having to nickel and dime folks down the field. We do that and then we make a mistake and stop ourselves. It''s tough."
But Lee believes his team is a few plays away from being a contender.
"We have had a very tough opening few games," said Lee, whose team lost to defending Class 4A champion Noxubee County and to last season''s Class 3A state champion Louisville (now in Class 4A) in its first two games. "You want to start 4-0 before division starts, but, realistically, I was hoping for 2-2. We are close, though, and improving. It''s just a matter of making one more play and finishing drives. We are beating ourselves too much."
Leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Starkville had the ball on the Wildcats'' 25, but another turnover ended the threat.
Meridian capitalized with an Atkins'' 41-yard touchdown run and the subsequent two-point conversion to take an 8-3 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats continued to open things up in the fourth quarter, using the momentum from the blocked punt to dominate.
Atkins connected with Bravious for an 18-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter to take a 21-3 lead.
Four plays later, the Wildcats found the end zone again as backup quarterback Luke Stanley hooked up with Jamie Clayton for a 39-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 27-3 early in the fourth quarter.
"Whenever you have good players you will have big plays," Weems said. "We were fortunate we could overcome the early mistakes. A lot of times the longer you let a team hang around the tougher it is to win."
Starkville will look to earn its first win Friday when it plays host to West Point, while Meridian will play host Quitman.