September 2, 2018 1:14:46 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Starkville Academy football team is accustomed to facing adversity.
A year ago, the Volunteers committed a turnover on the opening kickoff of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) AAA State championship game last November. The fumble set up Indianola Academy for the game's first score and gave it all of the momentum.
But Starkville Academy didn't flinch.
The Volunteers rallied thanks to strong special teams play and beat the Colonels in overtime for the program's seventh state title.
Garrett Lewis wasn't the quarterback of the 2017 squad, but he showed Friday he has the mettle former quarterbacks Noah Methvin and Ben Owens would appreciate.
After throwing an interception that Randy Kemble returned 20 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive, Lewis settled down and helped lead Starkville Academy to a 20-14 victory against Indianola Academy.
"The pick-six woke me up," Lewis said. "If I have a lot of energy, the team feeds off me. I knew if I got down about it they'd get down about it too."
The deficit was the first of the season for Volunteers (3-0). The turnover forced Lewis to re-focus and to fight adversity, which he did by completing two passes for 26 yards to wide receiver Howell Archer. The completions set up senior running back Taylor Arnold for a 15-yard touchdown.
Starkville Academy's defense swallowed Indianola Academy's momentum after allowing an offensive touchdown in the second quarter. The Volunteers forced one sack and pressured quarterback Will Davis, which made it hard for him to get receivers Stefon Smith and Kemble involved.
With its defense holding serve, Arnold took over with help from Hayden Peeples, Will Miller, and C.J. Jackson.
"He understands so much about the offense and defense," Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said of Arnold. "He knows when his number is called what to do."
Arnold (116 yards rushing) ran for a 10-yard score and a 1-yard score in the second quarter to provide the final margin. Starkville Academy's special teams pitched in, recovering three turnovers on punt returns to give it better field position and to help set up the scores.
The Volunteers didn't allow a completed pass in the fourth quarter and only surrendered 63 rushing yards.
"We all pitched in and came back from adversity," Arnold said. "Last year, we gave the drive away on the first play. We did the exact same thing this game. That's the best game our line played this year. That's the best defense we played all year. They came out and showed them this is their line."
With 2 minutes, 28 seconds remaining, Starkville Academy used an illusion play that had kicker Nathan Pollan fumble the imaginary snap while lineman Walker Tranum rushed for 6 yards to complete the final fourth-quarter conversion.
Nicholson hopes the Volunteers take the lessons they learned against the Colonels and use them to combat adversity the next time they face it.
"This is a stepping stone in the direction we want to go," Nicholson said. "If we try to make it bigger than it is, we're going to lose our heads."
Starkville Academy will travel next week to face East Webster. The game will be part of the Touchdown Against Cancer series to help combat childhood cancer.