September 13, 2013 10:51:08 AM
STARKVILLE -- Each member of the 87-player Starkville High School football roster couldn't be more eager to play again.
After crushing losses to Oxford and West Point in consecutive weeks, Starkville's coaches and players will get another chance at 7 tonight to redeem themselves at home when they play host to Southaven.
"I don't know there's a game I've been looking forward to more than maybe the state championship game in Jackson than this Friday night," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "This is a big, big game to prove that this program can get back to playing the type of disciplined football we've promised in the past."
For Mitchell, who is 30-14 in four years at Starkville, it's a problem of effort on defense. That unit has allowed 83 points in the last six quarters.
"Whatever the problem, it's been a embarrassment for this program, and our pride is hurt," Mitchell said. "The fact we're embarrassed is something you lay on the kids as much as you lay on us as coaches. Over the last two weeks, nobody has done their jobs."
Starkville (1-2) will receive a test from an undefeated opponent that has at least four Division I verbal commitments on its roster. Southaven (3-0) is ranked in the local top 10 by The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Junior quarterback Nic Kennedy leads an offense that has scored 104 points in victories against Clarksdale, Memphis (Tenn.) Trezvant, and Memphis (Tenn.) Christian Brothers.
"Our defensive effort at Starkville hasn't remotely been close to how we expect this football program to handle that side of the ball," Mitchell said. "We knew we'd need to rely on that side of the ball, but teams now think they can walk the ball up and down the field on us. That must change."
Throughout this week of practice, the Starkville coaches, especially defensive coordinator Brooks Oakley, have stressed they've seen the defense play a stout 48 minutes in a 17-0 against defending Class 4A state champion Noxubee County to open the season.
"We have told the team that this is a big, big ballgame to prove Starkville High School can't be kicked around anymore," Mitchell said. "Maybe we've gotten too comfortable as coaches in the last two weeks, or maybe it's been a effort issue by the kids. Whatever the problem, we know it has to be fixed Friday night in front of our home fans."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.