Walters column: Starkville, West Point face huge challenges on road

 

Scott Walters

 

 

The most intriguing question of the prep football season will be answered Friday night. 

 

Is Horn Lake High School for real? 

 

Yes, Horn Lake -- the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A lightweight program that has rarely factored into the playoff consideration. 

 

That could change Friday night when Horn Lake plays host to Starkville in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. 

 

Starkville coach Chris Jones has no doubt spent the week preaching the values of Horn Lake. It might be a hard sale after the Yellow Jackets bets the Eagles 35-7 in the second round of the playoffs last season. 

 

This season, Horn Lake (12-0) appears to be a different team. The Eagles have spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the state after Starkville suffered a region loss at Northwest Rankin. 

 

Horn Lake is averaging 42 points per game and allowing 10 ppg. 

 

Senior quarterback Raydarious Jones is a running-passing threat. He has thrown for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 744 yards and 11 more scores. Jones is at his best when the play is broken. 

 

The Starkville defensive line -- considered far and away the best in the state -- will need to keep Jones in check. Perhaps, a hard hit or two early might reduce the number of times Jones takes off to improvise. 

 

Patrick Gilliam leads Horn Lake with 877 yards rushing. He also has 10 touchdowns. 

 

Overall, the Eagles average 243.6 yards rushing per game. 

 

On defense, many consider senior linebacker Nakobe Dean the best player in the state. He has a team-high 90 tackles. 

 

Despite Horn Lake's depth of talent, Starkville has been on a mission since last season ended 11 minutes shy of a state championship. 

 

Starkville (11-1) survived a pair of scares in last season's North State playoffs. The playoff wins included a 6-0 victory over Southaven and a 27-24 decision against Madison Central. 

 

This season, the Yellow Jackets will be tested Friday and most likely will face a similar fate against Northwest Rankin or Madison Central in the North State finals. 

 

In Class 5A, West Point will play host to region rival Lafayette in the second round. 

 

While West Point (11-1) is riding a nine-game winning streak, it survived one of its biggest scares with a 14-13 victory against the Commodores in the regular season. 

 

Neither team scored in the second half, as West Point made big play after big play on defense to secure the win. 

 

Eight weeks later, the rematch is set. Lafayette (10-3) is averaging 36.6 points per game, while giving up 14 ppg. Its losses are by a combined six points: Oxford (29-27), West Point (14-13), and Olive Branch (24-21). 

 

Junior quarterback Randy Anderson has thrown for 1,140 yards and eight touchdowns. Lafayette has rushed for 4,260 yards (327.7 per game). The Commodores have three 1,000-yard rushers. 

 

A year ago, West Point had no trouble blowing past four opponents to repeat as Class 5A State champions. 

 

This season, the road will be more difficult. Olive Branch most likely will be waiting in the wings for another rematch in the North State championship. 

 

 

 

Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.

 

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