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Starkville pulls away from Oxford


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- Before the matchup was a reality, Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell said there wasn't much to talk about regarding another game against West Point High. 


Following a 127-yard rushing performance against Oxford High on Friday that helped push Starkville into another matchup against West Point, Preston Baker may have described it best. 


"Starkville and West Point. Doesn't get much better than that," Baker said after a 28-7 victory against Oxford in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs. 


Baker had 217 all-purpose yards, including a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that helped the helped the Yellow Jackets (10-3) re-claim the momentum after the Chargers (11-2) scored their first points. 


As Mitchell was quickly going over the game plan with starting quarterback Gabe Myles, the third-year coach saw Baker sprint past him with only the kicker to beat on the return. Baker made two players miss before turning it back inside to allude kicker Cody Mills. The score was the first on a kickoff return since the 2011 season opener. Baker's only score of the game helped give Starkville a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter. 


"I thought he had a chance to take it all the way," Mitchell said. "There's no doubt that was the biggest play of the football game on so many levels." 


Baker rushed for 127 yards on 11 carries, marking the first back-to-back 100-yard effort by a Starkville player this season. 


"He just keeps doing it even when teams are trying to stop him all week in practice," Mitchell said. "The only problem with his numbers is we didn't get him the football enough in the first half." 


Mitchell has the Yellow Jackets in the Class 5A North State championship game in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01. Last season, Starkville beat West Point in the second round after losing to the Green Wave in the regular season. It then defeated Ridgeland in the North State title game before losing to Picayune at Memorial Stadium in Jackson. 


When fall practice started in August, Mitchell believed Starkville could get back to the North State championship game and could face West Point. That matchup will come at 7 p.m. Friday in Starkville. West Point beat Starkville 47-22 on Sept. 7 in Starkville. 


"We're the two best teams in the North Half and, quite frankly, we have been all season long," Mitchell said. "It just feels right that we are the two that should decide it." 


Starkville's defense, which has been a constant all season, kept quarterback Parker Adamson (18 of 28 for 205 yards and a touchdown) in check by forcing the 6-foot-5 senior to elude pressure. The pressure allowed Starkville to sub in and out and to use players like senior quarterback Gabe Myles, Baker and other skill position players, who typically play only on offense, in the secondary. 


Starkville held Oxford to 89 yards in a scoreless first half that included three turnovers. 


"I thought the major element to that was we were able to get in his face with just three people," Mitchell said. "We had to keep him guessing, and I thought we did that very well." 


Myles completed just 4 of 12 passes, but he led a nine-play, 99-yard touchdown drive that gave Starkville a 14-0 lead. 


"It's a matter of finding what was working for you and making sure you help the team get the job done," Myles said. "Coach always says that as long as the job gets done, that's what is most important --┬ánot what it looks like." 


Myles was forced to improvise early because Oxford's blitzes created havoc in the backfield. However, the blitzes allowed for draw and sweeps that Baker and Jaquez Horsley used to rip off big gains. 


None of the players at Starkville or West Point high schools were alive the last time both schools advanced to the North State title games in 1985. In the MHSAA Class 5A and 4A North Half state championship games, Starkville beat Clarksdale and then lost to Meridian in the state title game, while West Point lost to Louisville. 


"We just can't wait for that game because it's about more than bragging right this time," Myles said. "It's about going to Jackson, which is what we've worked so hard for this season." 




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