August 22, 2014 11:34:59 AM
STARKVILLE -- After months of hype, it is time to see if the Starkville High School football team can deliver.
Ranked third in the state by two publications, Starkville will open its quest for the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state championship at 7 tonight when it plays host to Class 4A contender Noxubee County at Yellow Jacket Stadium.
"The best thing about this team has been its focus," Starkville senior quarterback Brady Davis said. "I think all of us have done a really great job of blocking out the outside distractions. It doesn't matter how many people tell you are good. You have to prove it on the field."
A season ago, Davis threw for 2,626 yards and 23 touchdowns for a 4-7 New Hope squad. For Starkville, it will be a third-straight year to break in a new quarterback. Davis follows Gabe Myles (2012) and Princeton Jones (2013).
"We were fortunate everything fell in place and we were able to bring Brady on board," Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said. "He does so many things well and has given our team a much-needed boost. We were working on a plan at quarterback and things fell right."
Mitchell calls his receiving corps the best he has had in 26 years of coaching. Still, any group of receivers can benefit from a strong-armed, smart quarterback who is a good decision-maker.
"The best thing about Brady is he really came in as the leader from day one," Starkville junior wide receiver A.J. Brown said. "Even when he was learning the plays and learning his teammates, he was our undisputed leader. We knew what kind of talent he had because everybody had heard of him. He came over here and really started demonstrating what type of leader he was going to be."
After winning the Class 5A state championship in 2012, Starkville finished 9-4 last season in its first season against Class 6A opposition. The Yellow Jackets allowed 18.3 points per game. That number should improve this year, thanks in large part to a highly touted defensive line.
On offense, Starkville struggled to maintain consistency in 2013. The Yellow Jackets rallied for a 14-7 victory against Grenada in the playoffs before suffering a season-ending 20-6 loss to South Panola, this season's top-ranked team and favorite in Class 6A.
Davis should be able to reverse Starkville's offensive fortunes. The backfield is full of depth and experience, as senior Jacquez Horsley returns after rushing for 895 yards and six touchdowns a season ago.
Last season, Jones threw for two touchdowns in a 17-0 victory against Noxubee County in Macon. The teams combined for just slightly more than 400 yards of total offense in a game that foreshadowed both team's stellar seasons on defense.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter