October 27, 2013 1:45:02 AM
JACKSON -- Asked if he saw in the summer that Princeton Jones would be as dynamic and consistent at quarterback as he has been this season, Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell didn't hesitate.
"Heck no," Mitchell said after a dominating 48-28 victory against Murrah in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, District 2 game Friday night. "There's a lot of quarterbacks that people think are the best in the state of Mississippi. I can almost promise you that of all those names have less touchdowns than Princeton Jones."
Jones, a senior who used to play wide receiver, was involved in all seven of Starkville's touchdowns. Jones threw for two touchdowns to give him 19 for the season. He also ran for five 1-yard touchdowns.
"He's been the major factor to why we're able to do what we do on offense," Mitchell said. "He's one of our captains, and there's nobody I think on our offense that's played better than him in the last several weeks."
Jones' touchdown drives at the end of the first half and at the beginning of the second half erased the Mustangs' chances for a comeback.
In the second half, junior tailback Jacquez Horsley showcased a physical run game to the tune of 107 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown catch. After an emotional 45-42 victory against Madison Central last week, Starkville had just two first downs in the first half but still led 22-16 at halftime.
"It was so critical for us to answer each one of their scores with our offense," Jones said. "On the times where our defense got us turnovers, we cashed them in and that was the difference."
For the first time since the first quarter of region play, Starkville trailed a division opponent after a long snap went over punter Michael Godley's head and resulted in a safety that gave Murrah a 16-14 lead.
Starkville answered with a defensive stop and a 32-yard touchdown strike on a jump ball to AJ Brown with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first half.
"If I put the ball in the air I just expect my guys to always go get it," Jones said. "I thought we did a good job of getting the momentum back each and every time we got the ball."
In the shadow of his biggest victory at Starkville, Mitchell left Newell Field with mixed emotions. While he was thrilled leave with a undefeated record in region play, he couldn't help wonder about his team's run defense. Last year, Starkville beat Pascagoula in the Class 5A state title game for its first state championship under Mitchell.
Starkville (7-2, 5-0 region) surrendered 297 yards rushing on the ground and was dominated up the middle by junior running back Malik Dear and the Mustangs' attack.
Dear, who has already received scholarships offers from Ole Miss and Mississippi State, had 226 total yards of offense. He had a touchdown rushing, throwing, and receiving and was in the Wildcat quarterback in the second half.
"I wasn't concerned about our defense a week ago, but after tonight I promise you the red flags and sirens are out for us," Mitchell said. "Dear can make plays for you at any point of the football game, but there's times we were in position to even have a chance on defense. That has to get fixed quickly."
After being gashed by the Murrah's running attack, Starkville's defense forced three turnovers that resulted in 20 points.
"I think (those turnovers) were huge because it seemed like every time we got the ball back to the offense, they put it in the end zone," Starkville sophomore defensive lineman Kobe Jones said.
If Starkville defeats Warren Central (6-3, 4-1) on the road next week, it will clinch the top seed in Class 6A, Region 2 before the regular-season finale.
"It's an absolute must-win situation. There's no debate," Mitchell said. "We know the stakes and what's on the line. We have everything in front of us."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.