Starkville Academy seniors Raegan Richardson (3) and Kyle Faver celebrate Saturday’s state championship win. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
November 19, 2017 12:48:23 AM
JACKSON -- Brad Butler knew his defense wasn't a finished product in week three.
Coming off a 14-point loss to Indianola Academy on Sept. 1, the Starkville Academy defensive coordinator kept things simple. He told his players they needed to get better every day the rest of the season to have a chance to play for a state title Nov. 18.
Butler's defense was alive and kicking Saturday.
Buoyed by a shutout performance in the second half, the second-seeded Starkville Academy football team used another stellar effort from its defense to beat top-seeded Indianola Academy 21-14 in overtime in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, Division II State title game at Jackson Academy.
"The game plan was to keep doing the same thing we have been doing for 13 weeks," Butler said. "We wanted to get after their butt."
Starkville Academy did that by limiting Indianola Academy to 134 yards rushing on 39 carries. The Volunteers' dominance is even more striking if you take out a 49-yard run by T.K. Bolden on a reverse in the fourth quarter. But the Volunteers overcame that play and the personal foul penalty that followed it by making a stand. Kyle Faver's pressure on quarterback Will Davis enabled Zach Barnes to dive for an interception that snuffed out the Colonels' biggest scoring threat in the second half.
The Volunteers came up even bigger in overtime.
Trailing by seven, Indianola Academy used an 8-yard gain on a bubble screen on third down to push Starkville Academy back to the 1-yard line on fourth down. Instead of buckling, the Volunteers made a final stand.
Butler said the Volunteers moved into their "nose" formation where their players matched up with the Colonels. He said the MIKE linebacker called a side to slant to and the Volunteers slanted to that side. He said the defense had such a big push that the center couldn't get a clean snap off.
"There were a lot of folks in there blowing it up," Butler said. "(When I saw the football on the ground, he thought) we are state champions, baby."
The victory helped Starkville Academy (13-1) win the program's seventh state title, and first since 2005. The Volunteers ended the season on an 11-game winning streak and avenged a 35-21 loss to the Colonels on Sept. 1 in Indianola.
Starkville Academy's defense was stellar in the postseason. The 14 points Indianola Academy scored were the only ones Starkville Academy allowed in four postseason games.
"When you play 14 games, that is a lot of games. If you get better each day, by the time you get to this one, you're playing pretty good football," Butler said. "The defense just kept coming to work every day and playing hard and believing in what we do."
Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson praised Butler and assistant coach Bubba Davis all season for their work with the defense. He said he routinely asked Butler what he needed to work every day in practice so the defense could get better. He believed the Volunteers were going to be tough to beat Saturday because they were playing great defense.
"The defense played like we expected," Nicholson said. "You don't win championships without defense. We believe that. We have known that since day one. That is what we have practiced on. If coach Butler wants something, he gets it because we believe in defense. They played lights out."
Starkville Academy allowed only 226 yards offense (92 passing). In addition to Barnes' interception, Faver had a big sack in the third quarter that forced a fumble that Campbell Spivey recovered. Taylor Ray and Will Miller teamed up on another sack in the third quarter. The Volunteers also swarmed Davis on fourth down on the Colonels' initial drive of the second half.
"They were everything," Starkville Academy quarterback/defensive lineman Noah Methvin said. "We leaned on them. We leaned on them all season, and we leaned on them again tonight. The last play, they won the game for us."
Methvin said the Volunteers kept telling themselves they needed to keep pushing when they trailed 14-7. He said everyone believed the defense would hold, so they just needed to break through. Starkville Academy kept pounding and pounding to convert a fourth down from just outside the 8-yard line. Two plays later, Methvin scored on a 5-yard run. Cameron McKee's kick tied the game at 14 with 8 minutes, 38 seconds left.
On a day where special teams accounted for Starkville Academy's first score on a blocked punt by Matt Miller and a recovery and score by Ben Guest, the defense stayed the course and produced a championship effort.
"We got the turnovers at the end. We don't get the turnovers we don't win, either, because they would have punched it in," Methvin said. "Defense wins championships. That is what they say, and they won it tonight."
Taylor Arnold acknowledged the offense "didn't have our best game," but he said the defense "stepped up." Arnold helped spark the defense in the first half after he slipped fielding the opening kickoff and went down at the 1-yard line. Quarterback Ben Owens fumbled on the Volunteers' first play. The Colonels capitalized on the next play with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Instead of hanging his head, Arnold responded by fueling an aggressive defense. Arnold said he was "pretty upset" with himself after the opening kickoff, but he said his teammates told him to forget about it and let it go.
"Tay is a big-time player. You saw it all night," Methvin said. "He came to play. The first few drives, he really was the only person out here, if we're being honest, making all of the stops on defense, running the ball really hard."
Faver provided a spark in the second half. He said the Volunteers didn't really change anything from the first meeting against Indianola Academy. He said and his teammates believed they didn't need to because the Volunteers matured as a group from Sept. 1 and they knew they would be able to shut the Colonels down if they executed Butler's game plan. Faver said the defense did that by playing harder than it did in the first meeting.
"The team couldn't have worked any harder all year," Faver said. "It is a great win."
Faver's statement is a tribute to Butler and Davis for getting the most out of a unit that wasn't the biggest, fastest, or strongest in the state. The Volunteers made up for that by being the state's best at getting 11 individuals to play with one mind-set. Starkville Academy's ability to attack and dominate helped it finish the season in style.
"They just keep coming. That is the way they are," Butler said. "I didn't have to do anything. They just play like that. That is the kind of kids we have."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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