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Starkville's ground game too much for Noxubee County

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

MACON -- Rodrigues Clark's 194-pound body might be better suited for 3-yard gains than 30-yard bursts. 

 

It doesn't matter to Clark because he is willing to take the short gains and collect first downs as long as it takes. He knows the big play is coming. 

 

The big plays came twice Friday night. 

 

Clark scored on runs of 30 and 53 yards in the first half to fuel a Starkville High School offense that averaged 6.3 yards per carry in a 43-3 win against Noxubee County in the season opener for both teams. 

 

"That's (Clark) being (Clark), running hard with his vision," Starkville coach Chris Jones said. "I think he did a good job of just banging, banging, and banging, and it finally popped. Banging, banging, banging, and it popped again. That's what a good running back does. It's not going to be 30 every time. It might be 2, 3, 4, then 30." 

 

That was the formula. If not for his touchdown runs, Clark's 15 carries for 116 yards would have averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Taking on the physical toll of a grinding style proves Clark's point when he said, "I just feel back to my old self." 

 

Clark missed spring practice with a torn meniscus. His return to full capacity gives Starkville a power presence and three bona fide threats at running back. Running mates K.J. Lawrence and Andreus Swanigan benefit from the message Clark sends with his physicality. 

 

Clark, Lawrence, and Swanigan helped quarterback Malik Brown throw for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Brown also rushed for 52 yards. 

 

"He's a big kid. He loves contact," Jones said of Clark. "They all kind of set each other up. With us being so deep at running back, I think it wears the defense down. Three-headed monster, and I'm proud of all those guys." 

 

Neither Swanigan nor Lawrence got the workload Clark did, but they averaged 7.2 and 11.3 yards per carry, respectively. Lawrence gained 29 of his 34 yards on a play that set the tone for Starkville's second-half sprint. After a Noxubee County punt, Lawrence broke a run through the right side and threw a defender to the ground in front of him with his left forearm before gathering a few more yards. Swanigan scored two plays later. 

 

"That made a big impact," Clark said. "It got everybody hype. I know I'm not the only one that can do it. 

 

"We've been grinding since we lost to Clinton last year. A lot of that paid off tonight." 

 

As Jones saw it, the running game succeeded in part because Clark is healthy and can play a big role. 

 

"Being consistent and sticking to it," Jones said. "I think early on we were weathering the storm while they were bringing some extra guys. We blocked who we were supposed to block instead of panicking, and at the end of the day, I feel like we did a good job sustaining blocks and allowing our backs to find running lanes. 

 

"We'll only get better. We have a lot of guys who haven't played a whole bunch of football, so the more they play, the better they'll get." 

 

Jones feels the same way about his defense. Sophomore defensive back Corbin Grantham and sophomore defensive lineman Jaylan Ware led the team in tackles. Grantham capped the scoring with a 20-yard interception return late in the third quarter. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson 

 

 

 

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