November 25, 2012 1:00:36 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School quarterback Gabe Myles took the snap and saw just enough of an opening.
Myles scampered 3 yards to put an exclamation note on one of the most dramatic sporting contests played between Starkville and Golden Triangle rival West Point.
Final score in overtime: Starkville 29, West Point 28.
Myles' game-winning two-point conversion helped the Yellow Jackets capture their second-straight Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State championship on Friday night.
Starkville (11-3) will face Pascagoula (11-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Class 5A state championship at Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Playing with the memory of fallen teammate Devin Mitchell still fresh on everyone's mind, Starkville will return to the state title game for a second-straight season.
Mitchell, a rising standout on the football team, was shot and killed in the early hours of New Year's Day.
West Point (11-3) saw a second-straight season come up short of Jackson thanks to Starkville.
"This is unreal," Myles said. "This is how you are supposed to win a championship."
West Point felt fortunate to be in overtime after Nelson McIntosh blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt by Charlie Henderson on the final play of regulation.
The Green Wave capitalized when Aeris Williams ripped off a 10-yard run on the first play of overtime. Eric Lemus' kick gave the Green Wave a 28-21 lead.
"We really thought we had it there," West Point senior quarterback Tez Lane said.
After Preston Baker was stuffed for no gain on first down, the Yellow Jackets threw an incomplete pass on second down. The pass rush of Tyler Logan and Antonio Dent gobbled up Myles for a 5-yard loss on third down.
After back-to-back timeouts, Myles found Kentrell Spencer at the goal line for a 15-yard touchdown catch.
"We were going for two. There was no question," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "As coaches, we talked about it before the overtime began. We wanted the ball last and we were going for two. I don't know how Gabe got in (on the two-point conversion). It was an incredible play. Those are the kinds of plays he has always made for us."
On the conversion, Myles took the snap, looked at throwing options for a couple of seconds, and knifed through a hole on the left side of the line. After breaking the plane of the goal line, dozens of Yellow Jackets mobbed Myles.
Several members of the overflow crowd poured onto the field, while West Point players collapsed to their knees all over the field.
"This hurts," said Dent, a senior nose tackle for the Green Wave. "I am a senior, so I am hiding my tears. You really don't want the younger players to see you down like this because you are a leader. But man, this hurts. We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Words can't describe the emptiness right now. I can't believe it is over."
If this is the final Starkville-West Point game with them as Class 5A opponents, it will be remembered for years. Neither team committed a turnover in what was a physical, action-packed game from the opening kickoff.
"It was a game of momentum. It was a game of emotion," West Point coach Chris Chambless said. "It was right there for either one of us. We had the momentum. Then we gave it back. For these kids, this is going to hurt for a long time."
Starkville sprinted out the gates. The Yellow Jackets scored on two of their first four possessions to build a 14-0 lead. Jaquez Horsley's 6-yard run capped a 12-play, 87-yard drive. Preston Baker followed that with a 47-yard touchdown run.
For the home crowd, the fast start was similar to the regular-season meeting against West Point when Starkville led late in the second quarter before fading in a 47-22 defeat.
"We let them get away during the regular season," Starkville senior linebacker David Fair said. "We knew tonight there were not a high enough number of points that would work. We had to keep going. When things were good, we had to keep going. When things got away from us, we had to keep going."
West Point turned the momentum late in the second quarter. Facing a fourth-and-2 at their 24-yard line, the Green Wave faked a punt. Williams kept it for 4 yards from the upback position.
The Green Wave extended the possession into an 84-yard, 12-play drive. Lane found Williams in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left in the first half to help cut the deficit to 14-7 at halftime.
"We thought we were going to take control of the game there," Lane said. "We had been waiting for something good to happen, and it finally did. (Converting) the fourth down was huge."
West Point took the first possession of the second half 79 yards on 11 plays. Williams and Lane combined for all of the carries, with Williams plunging in from 1 yard. A bad snap led to a low kick and a missed extra point.
Undeterred, West Point took the lead on a 67-yard, 11-play drive that ran out the third quarter and extended into the fourth quarter. Williams scored his third touchdown on a 2-yard run with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left. Lane kept around right end for the conversion.
"No one got down," Myles said. "We had confidence we were going to come back and win the game. That is the biggest difference between the start of the year and now. We play with a belief we are going to make the play."
The Yellow Jackets made several of those plays. Junior Darius Grayer was the unsung hero of the drive with runs of 20 and 16 yards. A face-mask penalty on third down also helped the drive. Grayer's 16-yard run and Henderson's kick tied the game with 5:11 left.
"We still felt good," Chambless said. "These were two great teams playing their hearts out. They just made one more play than we did."
Starkville followed its score with the defensive stop of the night, as a three-and-out gave the Yellow Jackets one last chance in regulation. Myles found Spencer on a 43-yard pass play that set up the potential game-winning field goal. The kick started low and had no chance after being partially blocked.
"We were down after not getting the field goal," Grayer said. "We had to keep battling, though, because the game was not over."
If the Yellow Jackets were indeed down, they had to sink even lower after Williams was uncontested for his fourth score. The West Point crowd roared at a fever pitch as first, second, and third downs slipped away from Starkville.
On fourth down, the storybook season continued as Myles avoided the pass rush and three tackles before finding Spencer. The pass remained a big play for about 10 seconds, before it was replaced by the conversion scramble.
"What an incredible ballgame," Mitchell said. "Everyone here will remember it for the rest of their lives. I still don't know how Gabe did it. I do know he had an angel wearing No. 32 (Devin Mitchell's former number) watching over him when he did."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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