September 2, 2018 1:16:26 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School football coach Chris Jones retreated to the athletic building behind Yellow Jacket Stadium's south end zone at halftime facing a one-point deficit.
With his team's first deficit of the season weighing on his mind, Jones recalled a conversation from a couple of years ago with David Boykin, a former staff member who is the offensive coordinator for the No. 1 East Mississippi Community College football team.
"He was talking about play-calling, 'Think players not plays,' " Jones said.
As that idea turned in his mind, he knew Dreke Clark had to touch the football.
Clark received those opportunities in the second half and finished with 24 carries for 154 yards and three touchdowns Friday night in a 23-7 victory against West Point that snapped the Green Wave's 30-game winning streak.
"Get your guys the ball, and that's what we did," Jones said. "At the end of the day you have to feed your guys. I thought he did a great job."
Jones didn't need encouragement to give his best running back more touches, but Clark provided it.
Starkville's second possession of the third quarter ended with an interception. Clark returned to the sideline telling anyone who would listen, "Give me the ball."
"I told coach to feed (No.) 3," Clark said, referencing his jersey number. "That's what the fans want. That's what I want. I already know what I can do. Hard work pays off.
"I knew once I got positive yards I was going to set the tone and big things were going to happen."
Assistant coaches did their job, collecting Clark to settle him down between possessions. Jones already has received the message.
"You got to listen to your players sometimes," Jones said.
Clark waited six plays for Starkville High's defense to get off the field. Clark ran it on three of the first four plays of the next possession -- all on direct snaps. Clark then reeled off a 17-yard run to get the Yellow Jackets (3-0) into scoring position, but a personal foul bounced them back out. He responded with a 16-yard run that set up Garin Boniol for a 27-yard field goal that gave Starkville, the No. 1 team in The Associated Press poll, a nine-point lead.
Clark then took over to put the game out of reach. His final touchdown sealed a five-play drive that featured four carries, for 8, 5, 4, and 23 yards.
"At the end of the day, don't overthink it, just get the ball to Dreke and let him eat," Jones said.
Clark's explosion was a departure from a first half that was an offensive struggle. A scoreless first quarter started with two three-and-outs, a streak only ended by a first down by penalty. Starkville scored its first-half touchdown thanks to a 59-yard punt from Boniol.
"A lot of it was we had to get them calmed down," Jones said. "Offensively, we had a lot of guys that haven't been in this atmosphere before. We had to get 3 (Clark) involved and we had to get 1 (Malik Brown) involved. These kids have played a lot of big-time football, and I think they led the way."
The win had more meaning than most. Defensive coordinator Kevie Thompson received a water cooler bath shortly after the final seconds. The players also celebrated a victory against the No. 2 team in The AP poll and a longtime rival in the entrance to the locker room before going inside.
"As a coach, you want to say all of them are the same, but this one is different," Jones said. "This is what high school football is all about."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson