September 3, 2017 12:34:50 AM
WEST POINT -- The Starkville High School football team already was planning to bounce back as the final minutes of its first loss of the season ticked off the clock.
Offensive line coach William Stewart said as much, telling some players in the final minutes that sometimes a loss is what's needed to start a rise to the top.
That is the approach Starkville will have to take following a 28-3 loss to West Point on Friday night at Hamblin Stadium.
"We needed some of that humble pie," Starkville coach Chris Jones said. "I think we've been feeling ourselves a little bit, I guess you could say. Reading too many press clippings, internet stuff, I think.
"Sometimes there's a lot more to learn from losses than wins, and I think you need those losses to correct yourself."
Jones said he thought the Yellow Jackets came out "flat" and that his team's "energy wasn't there."
West Point didn't score on its first two possessions, but the Green Wave set the tone by gaining three first downs and establishing the running game. West Point quarterback Marcus Murphy scored on runs of 36, 33, and 14 yards in the second quarter to turn the momentum.
From there, a point of emphasis became apparent.
"They punched us in the mouth and we didn't respond well," Jones said. "They were more physical. They played a better brand of football. I thought they tackled well. I thought they blocked well, and they did what good football teams do.
"This is probably one of the more physical teams we'll face all year. I think this will prepare us for the more physical teams we'll face that will be a mirror image of these guys."
In a matter of minutes, Jones' attention turned to being better prepared both for Columbus, Starkville's next opponent, and the next smash-mouth team it will face. Jones plans on doing so with fundamentals.
"We'll do a lot of stuff different (in practice next week). We have to go back to square one," he said. "A lot of it was just missed tackles, and to me that's basic fundamentals. Blocking the wrong guy when we run inside zone, little things like that. We'll get it fixed."
Jones identified one fix and how it related to West Point's defensive ends in the running game. Since Starkville's running game almost always has an option principle, the quarterback is often asked to read a defensive end to determine whether to hand the ball off or to keep it. In that scheme, the defensive end in question is supposed to be left unblocked. In theory, the quarterback's decision leaves him out of position to attack the runner with the ball in any situation, which means the offense doesn't need to block him. Jones said there were times when Starkville blocked the ends on such plays.
The loss featured Starkville's least effective rushing performance to date. After running for nearly 7 yards a carry against Noxubee County and 5 against Oxford, the Yellow Jackets averaged 2.9 yards per carry
It didn't help that Starkville was without running back Rodrigues Clark (ankle) and offensive lineman Kameron Jones for the first three quarters. Jones missed time after being ejected from the Oxford game last week.
"Those are our leaders on offense, and it just so happened that both of them were out," Jones said. "We should've stepped up and made plays. We had our chances."
Those personnel holes fed into West Point's base defense and tendency to stay away from the extras, as described by West Point coach Chris Chambless.
"We stayed in rush lanes pretty good and didn't let (Starkville quarterback Malik Brown) loose as much," he said. "We're a big base defense, do your job, and have-our-bases-covered team. That's how we've always played defense."
While West Point exits the game as the favorite to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State championship and likely the next No. 1 team in the state, Jones can work with a refocused team to reach that level.
"West Point whooped our butts. I'm not going to make any excuses," Jones said. "We could've played better, but we didn't. We didn't coach well enough. We didn't play well enough.
"They're a good team. We won't hang our heads, but it shouldn't have been like this."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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