October 8, 2010 9:01:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Five games remain on the Starkville High School football team''s schedule, but it isn''t too early to talk about the playoffs.
After winning consecutive Class 6A, Region 1 wins and taking four of their last five games, the Yellow Jackets are treating tonight''s road game against Horn Lake as a must win.
A win against the Eagles (1-5, 1-1) would put the Yellow Jackets in prime position in the region, where this weekend''s slate of games could see three team''s move to 3-0 and as many as five drop to 1-2 or 0-3.
Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell has discussed how important it will be for the Yellow Jackets to be 3-0 as they enter the final stretch.
"I told them before we ever started in division there was some kind of way we had to be 3-0 going into the last four. It was just imperative," Mitchell said. "We''ve taken care of business in two of them, but we''ve still got a third one to go.
"Our goals are still right where we set them: to be in the playoffs. If we can punch that ticket, we''ll re-adjust those goals."
As Mitchell stresses the importance of tonight''s game, Starkville High''s players have the playoffs on their mind.
"We basically nag at each other about striving to do better," running back Garrett Smith said. "You got to get this amount of points, this amount of tackles, or this amount of rushing yards. We strive our own selves to do things we know we can do. We''ve got to keep getting better to reach our goals."
Smith, who had a combined 163 total yards and two touchdowns last week in a 47-14 victory against Tupelo, is an example of the individual improvement Starkville''s upperclassmen have made. Smith has emerged as the Yellow Jackets'' top rushing threat and has provided versatility in the passing game. All this comes after having a limited role last season.
"I see it as me growing personally to help the team grow," Smith said "But it''s not just me, everybody on this team is getting better."
Smith and the Yellow Jackets hope to have a better performance on the road tonight after beating DeSoto Central 38-16 two weeks ago. Despite the result, Mitchell bemoaned the sloppy performance against the region''s only winless team.
Part of turning in a clean performance is limiting Horn Lake''s return specialists. Starkville allowed 256 return yards to Tupelo and struggled in kick coverage.
Mitchell admitted the problems could be pegged on kicker Daniel Fumo and the coverage team, as the Yellow Jackets'' directional kicks were off and coverage team blew assignments. He said the team would continue to use directional kicking, despite Fumo''s ability to kick the ball deep.
"So much of that is dictated by what return guys the other teams have," Mitchell said. "There''s some return guys in our league you just don''t want to kick the ball to, which backfired on us Friday night. We ended up kicking it to the guys we were trying to kick it away from. But I think you see why we''re trying to do some of the things we''re doing."