October 28, 2012 1:13:35 AM
JACKSON -- Everything worked out the way Starkville High School coach Jamie Mitchell hoped Friday night at Newell Field.
Not only did Starkville get challenged, but it also responded for a 34-16 victory against Callaway that helped it clinch its first back-to-back region championships for the first time in a decade.
"I've said this Callaway team is the second-most talented group in our district, and I believe it after tonight," said Mitchell, whose team improved to 7-3 and 6-0 in Class 5A, Region 2. "What our team did by facing adversity and still allowing us to be region champs is incredible."
In its 13th-straight region victory since moving from Class 6A to Class 5A, Starkville's defense allowed its first touchdown in league play and trailed 8-0 early in the first quarter.
Then Starkville got angry and scored the next 27 points. Its defense forced two turnovers that led to touchdowns and won the field position battle. As a result, Callaway's multiple-set offense crossed midfield just twice.
"I thought the fumble we caused at the start of the second half was critical in maintaining the momentum of the game," Mitchell said.
Starkville senior quarterback Gabe Myles was 10-for-24, but he scored the game-clinching play on a 53-yard touchdown run. He scored by taking a quarterback draw and taking advantage of a pair of clear-cut blocks by his receivers that allowed him to get to the corner.
"It was time for me to make a play because that's what captains and leaders do right there," Myles said.
Everybody who touched the ball for Starkville on a run play averaged better than 5.5 yards per carry. Myles finished with a 175 yards.
Taking away Callaway's scoring drives, the Chargers (5-5, 3-3) gained just 29 more yards. Starkville's defense took credit for the total by making life miserable for quarterback T.J. Washington.
On offense, Myles connected with Kentrell Spencer for a pair of touchdowns. The completions to Spencer, who is becoming Myles' favorite target, came on a night in which Myles misfired on several throws.
"What's important is we got the win after getting punched in the mouth," Myles said. "Nobody cares what my numbers are or how we got it done, but it just matters we got it done."
In a game Mitchell called "one of the worst games we've played in a while", he said it "speaks volumes" about his team that it was able to win by 18 points. He hopes games like this bolster a confidence he feels can help the team get back to Jackson, the site of the state title games.
Starkville will play host to Neshoba Central on Friday in a Senior Night game. Fans shouldn't look for Starkville to play a lot of reserves, especially after what Mitchell told his team after its latest victory.
"They put it on the schedule so we're going to win it," Mitchell said.