November 10, 2013 1:23:27 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy football coach Jeff Terrill had been waiting for his team to play a complete game.
While it is too late to make the playoffs, the Volunteers delivered that stellar effort in the regular-season finale, a 24-0 victory against Pillow Academy on Senior Night in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 1 game at J.E. Logan Field.
Starkville Academy snapped a four-game losing streak with the win. The victory knocked Pillow Academy out of the playoffs and allowed archrival Heritage Academy to advance to play Lamar School next week.
"It feels really good to win the last game," Starkville Academy senior running back O'Shea Kemp said. "As a senior, you will always remember your last game, so it is good to go out on a high note."
Kemp said scoring twice in his final game was an emotional experience he will always remember.
"On one of my touchdowns, coach let me call the play," Kemp said. "I knew it would be open, so we ran it and scored. This was my first year to play on the team, but I will always remember this season. Even though we didn't win as many games as we wanted it was fun."
Kemp was one of five seniors playing their final game for Starkville Academy. The future is bright as the Volunteers look to bounce back from a 4-7 record. Starkville Academy had made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before falling short this season.
"We were young in a lot of areas and it showed up in some games," Terrill said. "Even though we did not have a lot of seniors, it was a special group. The program had not won a lot of games when they arrived, so to be able to make the playoffs twice and play in a state championship game, that is special. I think they can look back on their football experience here and feel good about things."
Sophomore quarterback Houston Clark had the other touchdown. He had missed some playing time of late with injury. He said Friday's performance was dedicated to the seniors.
"We really wanted to win the final game for the seniors," Clark said. "They have made a lot of sacrifices to help us become a better football program. We were just motivated for the seniors. We came together as a team and got the job done."
Leading by a touchdown early in the second quarter, a punt block by a pair of Starkville Academy defenders proved big and swung the momentum for good. On defense, the Volunteers allowed a touchdown in two wins and posted a shutout in the other two wins.
"Our kids flew around well and we played good assignment defense," Terrill said. "Pillow Academy had a good offense and is hard to defend because it is full of option reads. Players have to stay on their assignments and I thought we did a great job of that."
Junior linebackers Josh Crittenden and Drew Harrell led the defensive effort. Senior defensive back Kirby Cox also completed his career with a big hand in the shutout.
Terrill likes the growth and maturity his team showed against a challenging schedule. Such growth for the team will be enhanced by the evolution of Clark.
"I have become more mature and grown as leader this season," Clark said. "My game has improved a lot during the season. I am excited about the off-season and working hard to make next year even more successful."
Terrill feels the same way about his signal caller.
"Starting as a sophomore is not easy on any level," Terrill said. "Houston has really grown up and become more of a leader. We lost some really great seniors but we were able to get some of the younger guys a lot of playing time. So looking ahead we are excited about next season."
While next season will start this week in the weight room, Friday night belonged to the seniors.
"We had some very difficult losses," Terrill said. "We just had some losses that will tear you up. For the seniors to be able to go out on this note is very rewarding and very satisfying."