November 17, 2013 1:27:22 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The Starkville High defensive starters had to sit around all week and listen to the talent of Grenada's defense.
That talk was all the motivation the Yellow Jackets needed to prove they could win a low-scoring affair and advance out of the first round of the Mississippi Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs.
"We carried that burden on us all week hearing about Grenada's defense and how much better their linebackers were than us," Starkville senior linebacker Taylor Johnston said. "That chip on our shoulder got bigger and bigger until we finally got to do something about it Friday."
Starkville used a workhorse tailback and an opportunistic defense Friday night to earn its eighth playoff win in its last nine postseason games, as junior tailback Jacquez Horsley rushed for 102 yards against one of the state's best defenses to lead Starkville to a 14-7 victory.
Starkville (9-3), which reached the Class 5A title game the past two years, moved on to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs by rushing for 220 yards.
"Once I got back to running full speed in practice, I knew it would translate to how I would perform on the field," said Horsley, who returned after being out with an ankle injury. "We weren't worried about that Grenada defense because we had so much belief in our offensive line to push them back."
Grenada (9-3) brought the reputation of a top-level defense to Yellow Jackets Stadium, but the three-headed running combination of Horsley, Darius Grayer, and LaDorrious Pittman found holes thanks to a performance by the offensive line.
"That's really as good a defense as we're going to see, but our offensive line stepped up to the challenge of being more physical than them tonight," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We didn't even have to throw the ball."
Horsley finally found room in the middle of a defense led by linebackers Shareef White and Genard Avery, who have given verbal commitments to Mark Hudspeth's Louisiana-Lafayette's program, by planting his foot and cutting inside on a dive play and going 20 yards for a touchdown to give Starkville a 14-0 lead.
Starkville, which forced three turnovers last week in a victory against Canton in the regular-season finale, forced junior tailback Kesner Spencer to fumble three times. The Yellow Jackets recovered twice inside the red zone when the Chargers were on long drives.
Senior quarterback Nathan Evans was knocked out of the game in the first half with a injury that forced Grenada to be even more predictable. The only possession that produced points for the Chargers was largely due to the Yellow Jackets' inability to stay onsides and an illegal participation call Mitchell still believes came when his team had 11 players on the field.
"Their offense played right into our strength, which is stopping the run," Mitchell said. "We had a horrible call where they say we had 12 on the field, but without that, we pitch a shutout."
After failing to score points on its first two drives deep into Grenada territory, Starkville got its first touchdown in the second quarter when quarterback Princeton Jones found Pittman on a designed roll out for a 20-yard pitch and catch.
"That was huge for us to get that pass play converted because it was wide open," Jones said. "Hopefully next week we'll score more than 14 points because I know we'll have to."
Jones, the converted wide receiver who has 31 touchdowns, had only 50 total yards, but he executed a perfect quarterback draw on the final drive to ensure a victory.
Starkville will travel next week in the second round to face defending state champion South Panola High. South Panola beat Northwest Rankin 45-3 in its first-round matchup.
"Here's what's great about next week. All I've ever heard about high school football growing up in Mississippi is Panola this and Panola that," Johnston said. "I'm tired of hearing about South Panola and can't wait for this opportunity to face them next week."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.