September 14, 2010 8:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Quarterbacks need to be poised in clutch situations.
Good things tend to happen when a quarterback can hold his wits and lead his teammates.
Jaquez Johnson and Cedrick Jackson proved that is true Friday night.
Johnson, a senior at Starkville High School, and Jackson, a junior at Columbus High, delivered important performances against two of their teams'' biggest rivals and, in the process, earned some individual recognition.
Johnson helped Starkville rally from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat West Point 21-20, while Jackson threw three touchdown passes as Columbus outscored New Hope 25-8 in the fourth quarter en route to a 39-22 victory.
For their accomplishments, Johnson and Jackson are The Dispatch''s Prep Players of the Week.
Johnson opened the scoring for the Yellow Jackets (2-2) with a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He shook off a series of communication problems in that quarter and regrouped to lead Starkville to two scoring drives in the final quarter. He threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Hill and then led a drive that Garrett Smith capped with an 8-yard score. Daniel Fumo''s extra points provided the Yellow Jackets with their first victory against the Green Wave since 2005.
"We got a lot of motivation from our coaches (at halftime) because they were very upset," Johnson said. "I knew it was my last time playing West Point, and I had to come out and play as hard as I could."
Johnson said the offense hasn''t changed very much with Mitchell as coach. He feels he has learned not to force a throw when it isn''t needed and to pick his spots better in the running game.
Johnson felt he showed that maturation against West Point by "grabbing" key moments and leading the team.
"I really tried to get the team pumped up," Johnson said. "When the second half started, I tried to get some enthusiasm when I ran so I could get everyone hyped up, and it worked."
Johnson, who has started at quarterback for the past three seasons, was 11-for-21 for 165 yards. He added 36 rushing yards in an all-around solid effort that gave first-year Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell a signature victory. The win was even sweeter after the Yellow Jackets came up agonizingly short in 14-7 losses to Noxubee County and to Meridian.
Mitchell credited assistant coach Rob Morgan, who was on the staff when Bill Lee was coach, for working with Johnson and helping him continue to mature.
"He has just done everything we asked him to do," Mitchell said of Johnson. "When we have needed big plays to be made, he has made them, whether it has been with his feet or with his arm. He is the guy who makes us go on offense."
Jackson injured his ankle Aug. 14 in the Falcons'' jamboree game against Brandon at Mississippi State''s Davis Wade Stadium. He missed the team''s victory against Aberdeen and its loss to Noxubee County. He and the Falcons caught a break when the game against West Point scheduled for Sept. 3 had to be canceled due to the Green Wave having one too many games for the Mississippi High School Activities Association limit of 11 in the regular season.
Jackson didn''t waste any time showing he was ready. The right-hander, who like Johnson has the ability to throw and to pass in the mold of Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, was 13-for-18 for 178 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 22 yards to Randy Brown, 13 yards to Deontae Jones and 9 yards to Antaurio Brooks to help the Falcons (2-1) earn bragging rights in Lowndes County for the next year.
The victory also was important because it gave Jackson confidence he could lead the team. It''s not that he needed the boost because Jackson, who started as quarterback last season, looked calm and collected Friday night.
"There were many butterflies, but when I finally got out there with my team it just went away after the first play," Jackson said. "It all starts in practice. I mostly give it all to coach (Jeremy) Orsagh. He helped me a lot with my quarterback stuff and getting comfortable on the football field."
Columbus coach Tony Stanford said he wasn''t surprised Jackson did as well as he did. He said the biggest challenge for Jackson was picking up the tempo of the game. Once Jackson found his rhythm, he said he formed a solid threesome with running back Damian Baker and Jones at wide receiver.
"It is probably the best ballgame I have seen him play," Stanford said. "I thought he was more of a leader. As a sophomore last year, sometimes he was the young boy out there on the field, but I thought he took control and ran the offense."
Stanford said he would like Jackson to continue to improve his running ability, which he feels will come when his ankle feels more comfortable, and his ability to read defenses.
Jackson has worked on his footwork and his throwing mechanics with Orsagh. He said the offense has become more of a family than just another team. As a leader of the family, he wants to do "way better" than he showed against New Hope.
"I made a lot of mistakes with delay of games and other penalties that shouldn''t have happened," Jackson said. "I want to throw the ball better, to get more comfortable in the pocket, and to be a better leader.
"New Hope was a big rival and everybody was ready for the game. We have a lot of steam going into this Friday."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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