August 23, 2014 11:48:21 PM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy football coach Jeff Terrill has talked about getting the confidence back for his team.
After appearing in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship game in 2011, the Volunteers have been looking for that consistent confident level to return to that level.
Starkville Academy took a major step in that direction Friday night, defeating the 2013 MAIS Class AAA, Division II state champion Lamar School 42-21 in the season opener for both teams at J.E. Logan Field.
"It's just big (for us) to open like this," Terrill said. "Everyone wants to start fast and build some momentum. We were beaten soundly at their place last season. They're a team to be reckoned with before the season is said and done."
The Volunteers were young in several spots and missed the postseason in 2013. However, a season-ending victory against Pillow Academy showed just how far the team improved, so the anticipation for this season has been high.
"We worked hard all summer and the coaches pushed us to our limits every day and we kept moving forward," Starkville Academy junior running back Noah Heflin said. "One of our strengths is our unity as a team, and we have a great group of guys out here playing together."
Last season, Starkville Academy lost to Lamar 35-3 in Meridian. This game proved it would be different right away. Junior quarterback Houston Clark hit junior Drake Gordman for a 20-yard touchdown to cap the Volunteers' first offensive possession. Starkville Academy followed with a defensive answer, as junior defensive back Colt Chrestman broke up a pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
On its next possession, the Volunteers drove the length of the field for another score, as junior offensive lineman Carter Wood recovered a fumbled snap in the end zone. An interception by Blake Slaughter gave Starkville Academy the short field and Chrestman cashed it in with a 13-yard run for a 21-0 lead.
"After I noticed Tyler (Richardson) jump on the ball, I saw it pop out," Wood said. "I was close to it, so I kind of just dove on the ball and didn't really realize where I was on the field. I knew I recovered it, but I didn't know I was in the end zone. (But) when I stood up and looked around, I saw I was right next to the goal post and I heard them say my name on the PA system. I just thought to myself, 'Oh wow, this is pretty cool.' "
Starkville Academy made three stops in its territory before Lamar School scored in the closing seconds of the half to make it 21-7 at halftime.
The Volunteers attacked again to start the second half, as Heflin capped another long drive with a 7-yard run. Lamar fought back and cut the deficit to 28-21 late in the third quarter.
"The defense really played well all night," Terrill said. "The biggest key to the game was the play of the offensive line, though. When the game was tight in the second half, they allowed us to run the football, control the clock, and build the lead."
Starkville Academy sealed the deal when Clark hit Logan Locke on a 30-yard touchdown. Clark also called his number and scored on a 7-yard run.
While the first victory was important, Terrill knows his team has a long way to go. Still, the Volunteers walked off the field with the confidence Terrill feels his team needs.
"Tonight was a great win, and we still have a lot to work on," Heflin said. "This is a step in the right direction, and we couldn't do it without each other or the good Lord in Heaven keeping us safe out here."
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