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Conversion gives Starkville shot at title redemption


By Tanner McGraw, Special to The Dispatch



STARKVILLE --┬áStarkville High School quarterback Gabe Myles saw just enough room. 


Myles' two-point conversion run lifted the Yellow Jackets to a 29-28 overtime victory against West Point in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State championship game. 


"Just knowing you've got to make a play," said Myles, when asked to describe the game-winning play. "This is it for us seniors, and I'm a senior, so I know they wanted it as bad as I wanted it. You've just got to go in and make a play when you can. It was a pass out quick to the flats, and I didn't see anybody, so I just had to go. " 


West Point seemed to have seized control after Nelson McIntosh blocked a 24-yard field goal by Charlie Henderson as time expired in regulation. 


"I thought our kids were really defeated and down," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We tried to call them all in there and just explain to them we have just as big of an opportunity to win now, as we did before they blocked the kick. I think their heads perked up a little bit and realized they still had a chance to win this thing." 


As the team's leader, Myles knew Starkville needed to have a short memory if it was going to advance. 


"It was all right because we've been talking about leadership on this team and we've got this," Myles said. "We believe. God's on our side. You've got to be there when it's time for big plays to be made." 


Still, things looked bleak after Aeris Williams rammed into the end zone from 10 yards on West Point's first play. 


"They're going to find it, man. They're phenomenal up front," Mitchell said. "Two great backs and I couldn't be prouder of our defense. I just thought they battled their tail off. We've ridden them all year long, and, hopefully, we can do it one more time." 


Mitchell also knew he didn't want to get into an extended overtime with the Green Wave. The veteran coach talked with his coaches and decided the Yellow Jackets would go for the two-point conversion if they scored a touchdown. 


On first down, Myles handed the ball off to Preston Baker for no gain. Myles dropped back to pass on second down and his throw was tipped and fell incomplete at the 1-yard line. 


"I felt like we missed so many plays tonight that could have made a huge difference," Mitchell said. 


Myles knew he had two more chances. 


"It was fine," Myles said. "We were still in the game, and like I said, I was praying through this whole season for us to get to this game, so I knew everything was going to work out." 


On third down, Myles dropped back to pass and was sacked for a 5-yard loss. Starkville called its only timeout and faced fourth-and-15 against a pumped-up defense. The Yellow Jackets walked up to the line of scrimmage knowing they needed someone to make a big play. Myles dropped back to pass, surveyed the field, and fired a bullet to senior wide receiver Kentrell Spencer for the touchdown. 


"Prayed it up," said Myles, on his reaction to the touchdown. "Thank The Lord." 


With no timeouts remaining, Starkville went for the conversion and the victory. Myles dropped back and looked for Baker in the flat, but he tucked the ball and found a state title berth up the middle. 


"It's a no-brainer," Mitchell said. "We were trying to hit Baker in the flat. They did a great job covering it, I have no idea how he got in. 


Myles had 12 yards on 11 rushes. He was 6 of 10 for 120 yards and a touchdown. 


"I felt like we had some chances to really hit some big plays, and we missed about three shots that would have been walk-in touchdowns," Mitchell said. "We didn't hook them up, but we've kind of had that problem all year. When the game is on the line, he was the one who put us in Jackson. That's all that matters. 


"Give West Point credit. They did what they do. They bowed up in the second half and got after our tail, and you know down the stretch we just made a few more plays." 


Starkville will face Pascagoula at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Class 5A state championship at Memorial Stadium in Jackson. After claiming the Class 5A North State Championship two years in a row, Starkville will look for redemption after losing the state championship to Picayune last year. 


Myles and the rest of the seniors will relish a chance to play for another title. 


"That's redemption," Myles said. "It's redemption time. We've got to go back down there and get that trophy back."



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