May 16, 2014 10:09:26 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Starkville High School football team sent a message Thursday to the state of Mississippi that it is the team to beat after an easy victory against Class 6A power Brandon.
In a dominating 35-13 victory, Starkville showed on both sides of the ball why head coach Jamie Mitchell has called this team "the most talented collection of players he has coached in his 26 years on the sidelines."
"It's a belief I truly have in this football team, and walking off this field tonight with a win like this makes me even more sure of that kind of statement," Mitchell said. "That's not to say we will win more games or play well every time out, but this team has a chance to be special, and I know that from the first day of practice."
Starkville quarterback Brady Davis shined in his first action since transferring from New Hope High. Davis ran a smooth and precision spread option passing offense that accumulated 367 yards and scored four touchdowns against a squad that won Class 6A, Region 3 last year and is expected to challenge for the South Half title this season.
As a junior at New Hope last year, Davis threw for 2,626 yards and 23 touchdowns, including a 506-yard performance against West Point and a career-high six passing touchdowns. However, he proved more than anything Thursday night he is the most complete quarterback in terms of skill set Mitchell has had since he took over at Starkville High.
"I love this offensive system mostly because of all the weapons I have around me to make plays," Davis said. "At New Hope, I had to throw it 60 times a game for us to have any success, and now I get to play with talent at every position. Tonight was fun."
Davis led Starkville to points in each of its first two drives by finding outside receivers Quenton Evans and Raphael Leonard for big plays. In just his fourth week of learning the offense, Davis was 15 of 28 for 210 yards and three second-half touchdowns. He accomplished those numbers without a healthy Jacquez Horsley at tailback and with AJ Brown out with a knee injury.
"It's just flat scary what this offense will do with all of the parts healthy and working with chemistry as Brady continues to get better chemistry with them each and every day," Mitchell said. "I had fears and concerns it wouldn't come this quickly, but those got answered in a hurry tonight."
The Yellow Jackets built a 9-0 lead thanks to three consecutive turnovers forced by an active defense. The Starkville pass rush, led by juniors Maleke Bell and Kobe Jones who seemed to get off blocks on every down, frustrated quarterback Gardner Minshew with pressure all evening.
"You're talking about a kid in Minshew who might be the most impressive quarterback in the state and he never got comfortable," Mitchell said. "We have some things coverage wise we need to shore up, but, for the most part, we contained one of the best offenses in the state of Mississippi better than they have seen in a long time."
Minshew, a 6-foot-2 quarterback, spent most of the night throwing on the run for 264 yards. Most of that production came in the second half when the Bulldogs were in throw-only mode.
Despite Horsley's offseason hamstring injury that forced him to be practically unavailable, Starkville relied on an overpowering offensive line that helped Matt Fuller rush for 100 yards on 15 carries.
After a 22-point blowout in which Starkville caused three turnovers and punted once, Mitchell's biggest task entering one of the most anticipated seasons at the school is to keep his team focused. He tried to prepare his team after the game by telling it what kind of hype was coming after such a impressive demolition of a Class 6A program.
"If these kids buy in to what we're doing at Starkville, we will have something to say about who represents the North for the Class 6A state championship," Mitchell said. "At Starkville High, it's gotten to the point where my kids would've looked at me funny if we tried to measure ourselves against anybody else but the best in the state. Boy did they measure up tonight in a big way."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.