November 16, 2013 1:02:59 AM
STARKVILLE ¬- The Starkville High School football team used a workhorse tailback and an opportunistic defense Friday night to earn its seventh playoff win in its last eight postseason games.
Junior tailback Jacquez Horsley churned out 102 yards and the final touchdown in the third quarter to help Starkville defeat Grenada 14-7 Friday night in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs game. Starkville (9-3), the back-to-back state final participant out of Class 5A the previous two years, earned a date with defending Class 6A state champion South Panola by rushing for 220 yards.
"Once I got back to running full speed in practice, I knew it would translate to how I would perform on the field," Horsley said. "We weren't worried about that Grenada defense at all because we had so much belief in our offensive line to push them back."
Grenada (9-3) brought the reputation of a top defense to Yellowjackets Stadium, but the three-headed running combination of Horsley, Darius Graye, and LaDorrious Pittman found holes thanks to a strong offensive line performance.
"That's really as good a defense as we're going to see but our offensive line stepped up to the challenge of being more physical than them tonight," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We didn't even have to throw the ball."
Horsley finally found room in the middle of the defense led by a pair of linebackers -- in Shareef White and Genard Avery -- who have verbally committed to Mark Hudspeth's Louisiana-Lafayette's program. Horsley planted his foot and cut inside on a dive play that went for a 20-yard touchdown scamper to put SHS up 14-0.
Starkville, which forced three turnovers last week in a victory against Canton in the regular-season finale, forced junior tailback Kesner Spencer to fumble three times. The Yellow Jackets recovered twice inside the red zone to deny them the opportunity of executing long drives.
Grenada senior quarterback Nathan Evans was knocked out of the game in the first half with a injury that forced the offense to get even more predictable as the game continued. The only possession that produced points for the Chargers was largely due to Starkville's inability to stay away from offsides penalties and a costly illegal participation call.
"Their offense played right into our strength, which is stopping the run," Mitchell said. "We had a horrible call where they say we had 12 on the field but without that, we pitch a shutout."
After failing to score points on its first two drives deep into Grenada territory, Starkville got its first touchdown in the second quarter when quarterback Princeton Jones found Pittman on a designed roll out for a 20-yard pitch and catch.
"That was huge for us to get that pass play converted because it was wide open," Jones said. "Hopefully next week we'll score more than 14 points because I know we'll have to."
Jones, the converted wide receiver who now has 31 touchdowns this season, had only 50 yards, but he executed a quarterback draw to ensure a victory on the final drive.
Starkville will travel to face defending state champion South Panola High School in Batesville. The defending Class 6A champion defeated Northwest Rankin 45-3 in their first-round matchup.
"All I've ever heard about high school football growing up in Mississippi is Panola this and Panola that," Starkville senior linebacker Taylor Johnston said. "I'm tired of hearing about South Panola and can't wait for this opportunity to face them next week."
n Lamar School 24, Heritage Academy 21: At Meridian, Danny Weisner kicked a 21-yard field goal with less than seven minutes remaining to help the Raiders (10-3) eliminate the defending state champion Patriots (8-5) from the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II semifinals.
With the victory, Lamar School will advance to take on Magnolia Heights on Nov. 23 at Mississippi College in Clinton.
Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, Heritage Academy received the lift it needed with six seconds before halftime when Mark Thatcher took a pitch from Hunter Anderson and connected with Walker Brown for a touchdown. The score gave Heritage Academy the momentum it needed.
Austin Fitch hit Logan Bell with a 34-yard touchdown pass off a fake punt to tie the game. Hunter Anderson added a 54-yard scoring run for the Patriots.
n Noxubee County 28, Ripley 14: At Macon, the Tigers had a banner evening on defense with 10 sacks and four interceptions in their MHSAA Class 4A North State second-round victory against the Tigers.
Defending Class 4A state champion Noxubee County (9-3) will face Lafayette County in the third round next week.
Noxubee County even got a touchdown from its defense, as safety Darrell Brandon returned an interception 16 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.
Ripley High finishes the season at 11-2.
n Pickens County 38, Addison 22: At Reform, Ala., Jemarcus Brown had 23 carries for 256 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Tornadoes in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletics Association Class 1A playoffs.
On a night in which Pickens County struggled at times due to wet and rainy field conditions, the Tornadoes depended on Brown to carry the load.
"I know how close we were last year, and I remember how much that hurt," Brown said. "I knew I couldn't let my team down. I had to come out, put my team on my back and just go."
Marion County edged Pickens County by one point in the Class 1A state semifinals last season.
Addison didn't make it easy, however, as it led 15-14 at halftime. Brown scored on a 59-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. He added two more scores in the half and the Pickens County defense clamped down.