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Starkville's balanced attack in rout supports preseason hype

 

Scott Walters

 

STARKVILLE -- Most of the preseason hype around the Starkville High football team has involved a transfer quarterback and a talented group of wide receivers. 

 

Senior running back Matt Fuller served notice Friday night the Yellow Jackets will have a ground game ready to perform, too. 

 

Fuller ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns as third-ranked Starkville ran past Noxubee County 51-19 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association season opener for each team on the new turf at Yellow Jacket Stadium.  

 

"We are an offense that can put up about 40 (points) per game," Fuller said. "If we don't have turnovers or pre-snap penalties, we can probably put up even more. We know it is important to run the ball to put away games. That is what 6 (Jacquez Horsley), 26 (Avery Brown), and 2 (Fuller) are out here to do." 

 

Senior quarterback Brady Davis had a successful debut. After throwing for 2,626 yards at New Hope High last season, Davis was 11-for-18 for 183 yards and three touchdowns. 

 

"For a first game, that was a lot of fun," Davis said. "Noxubee County always has one of the best defenses in the state. To be able to come out and have a game like this against a really good defense is a huge statement. I will take my team against any other one in the country." 

 

Last season, Starkville beat Noxubee County 17-0 in the season opener. The Yellow Jackets eventually found some answers on offense and went on to beat Madison Central 45-42 and Murrah 48-28. Starkville eclipsed that total when Michael Sullivan drilled a 31-yard field goal in the waning seconds. 

 

"For the opener, this was really good," Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell said. "I was really pleased with a lot of things. Offense, defense, special teams. We had a lot of players step up and make plays in a lot of different areas. You can talk about penalties and all of that, but I am not going to worry about that. Once we get a comfort level on everybody playing together, we will be fine." 

 

While Davis hit A.J. Brown for a pair of touchdowns and Raphael Leonard for another, the biggest thrill may have come from what the Starkville offensive line and running backs did against Noxubee County's defensive line. Noxubee County, ranked No. 1 by The Clarion-Ledger in Class 4A, allowed 139 points in 13 games last season. The Yellow Jackets ran for 230 yards and three scores Friday night. 

 

"The running game was sensational," Davis said. "You got to be happy about what all of those guys were able to do. We know how big and quick our offensive line is. We just got to hit some big plays early, and that really can change an entire game around. 

 

"We feel like we have the backs who can get first downs when we need to get them when we are trying to put away a game." 

 

As the spring unfolded, Fuller was excited about being in the same backfield as Davis. As a junior, Fuller ran for 150 yards as an understudy to Jacquez Horsley. Also a senior on this year's team, Horsley ran 13 times for 91 yards. Brown had the other rushing touchdown. 

 

"We knew when Brady came here he was going to support us with the passing game," Fuller said. "If you can open things up with the passing game, the running game will open up. This is just the start, though. We have to stay humble and we have to keep working hard. The thing about this team is so many different players can make the big play to beat the other team." 

 

A strong performance by linemen Tyler Barnes, Kobe Jones, Jacory McCarter, Quez Roberts, Skylar Shields, and A.J. Smith paved the way for Fuller, Horsley, and Brown. 

 

Starkville scored on its first three possessions and built a 17-0 lead after one quarter. The Yellow Jackets rode the mammoth offensive line to keep control. While Mitchell is happy to have Brady in the fold, he also knows the special potential of his running game. 

 

"In the second half, to win games, you have to be able to run the ball," Mitchell said. "We feel like we are in a good place on offense. We feel like we have a talented trio of backs who can help us put a game away. It's a good feeling to have a lead and know you have that." 

 

Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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