October 20, 2013 2:05:18 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell has been in charge of high school football teams for more than 20 years, but he has never seen an ending to a game like the one he saw Friday night.
In a matter of minutes, the Starkville High School football team's sideline went from the agony of defeat to the exhilaration of victory thanks to a penalty.
On a play that began with eight seconds left, Madison Central quarterback Joseph Willis found a receiver for what everybody at Yellow Jackets Stadium thought was the 20-yard, game-winning touchdown. However, an offensive pass interference penalty negated the touchdown. The officials ruled that since time had expired after the play, the penalty sealed Starkville's 45-42 victory in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 2 game.
"I felt we had a couple of calls that didn't go our way in the first half and I didn't see what happened, so I don't know," Mitchell said. "The official obviously saw something early because I saw the flag before they scored. Thank goodness he did."
According to the NFHS rulebook, offensive pass interference is one of four penalties that doesn't guarantee the offense another un-timed down if clock expires.
Madison Central coach Bobby Hall needed to be restrained by security guards as the game referees ran off the field at the end of the game. Hall was unavailable for comment following the game.
"This game was all about adversity," Starkville sophomore defensive tackle Maleke Bell said. "We knew our team was counting on us to make a stop. I didn't see the flag, but I heard immediately my teammates saying, 'It's on them, it's on them', and so we got the win."
Starkville quarterback Princeton Jones had five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) and 226 yards in what Mitchell called the best game of his career.
"Princeton has been unbelievable, but so many guys made a ton of plays tonight," Mitchell said. "He was the catalyst for everything we did right."
Madison Central (5-3, 3-1 region) used an up-tempo offense to gain 451 yards in a game that featured only five punts. Jaguars junior tailback Trey Smith, the son of former NFL All-Pro selection wide receiver Jimmy Smith, had 25 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Willis was 17 of 29 for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
The teams combined for 815 yards, and Starkville, which entered the game averaging 31 points per game, was more than prepared for a shootout.
"It doesn't matter if my receivers are triple covered because I know they'll make the play," Jones said. "When you're in a shootout like we were in tonight, you have to answer every score with one of your own. We did that tonight, and we know we can put up points if we don't turn it over."
Madison Central scored 14 points off a interception and a long snap over the head of punter Michael Godley to keep the game close.
"I thought we gave them 14 points off a turnover and a snap over the punter's head," Mitchell said. "When you give a team points, you have to come back and make some plays on offense."
Before the opening kickoff, Madison Central players met the Starkville team at midfield and had words for the 2012 Class 5A state champions.
"It was very disrespectful for them to come out on our field and tell us they were going to introduce us to Class 6A football like we'd never seen it before," Jones said. "We sure did something about it though by the end of the game."
MHSAA reclassification pushed Starkville back to Class 6A after two seasons in Class 5A and put it in the same region as Madison Central.
Starkville (6-2, 4-0) has won 18 consecutive region games dating back to the start of the 2011 season, when they began Class 5A play. Victories at Murrah and Warren Central in the next two weeks will give Starkville its third-consecutive region championship.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.