Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell made waves last Friday when he “guaranteed” a win over Pascagoula in the MHSAA Class 5A state championship.
After a thrilling win over West Point in the semifinals, Mitchell told the Starkville Daily News, “I guarantee you this, we are going to win it.”
Mitchell says he wasn’t trying to pull a Joe Namath, but his promise proved prophetic: Starkville (12-3) cruised to a 28-11 win over Pascagoula (12-3) to win the 5A title at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I don’t know if that statement was taken a little bit out of context, but I felt we’d play great,” Mitchell said. “I just believe in our guys.”
Mitchell’s bold statement was made primarily due to a brutal loss to Picayune in last year’s 5A championship. He came so close to his first state championship after 23 years of coaching and wasn’t willing to walk away from another appearance on Jackson’s biggest stage empty-handed.
Neither were his players.
“We thought about (the loss) that night,” said senior quarterback Gabe Myles. “After it was over, we said we were going to come back to Jackson. That was our main goal. We got here and all we had to do was win it. I just want to thank the Lord for that.”
Myles was a big part of Starkville’s success Saturday night. The Dandy Dozen quarterback, who has verbally committed to Mississippi State, was 9 for 14 for 82 yards and a touchdown. He also had 42 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Myles wasn’t the only senior to make a big impact for the Yellowjackets. Senior defensive back Johnny Smith had three interceptions — Starkville had four in total — slowing down Pascagoula’s talented quarterback Stacey Warren. Starkville’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown in the title game and did a nice job of forcing Pascagoula to go settle for field goals.
“They’ve done it all year long,” Mitchell said about his defense’s effort. “Game after game after game. Heck, we shut out five of our division opponents. That’s why we won this ballgame tonight.”
Pascagoula had its share of opportunities but was unable to convert for anything more than a field goal. In the second half Pascagoula had a few ripe scoring opportunities but couldn’t get into the end zone. Its best chance came after a recovered pooch kickoff that netted the Panthers the ball at Starkville’s 11-yard line, but Pascagoula was unable to convert and had to settle for another Grant Warren field goal.
“That was tough, but we had to take points when we had the opportunity,” said Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims on his team settling for field goals. “We got it down to a 10-point game and thought we were playing well defensively.”
Warren accounted for nine of Pascagoula’s 11 points. The other two came from a safety early in the third quarter.
Pascagoula cut it to 21-11 with 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but its defense was unable to stop Myles and the run-heavy Starkville offense. Myles quickly guided his team down the field and scored from 1 yard out to seal a 28-11 victory.
Myles’ final touchdown made the terrible memories from last year wash away and gStarkville its first title since 2001. Finally Myles, Mitchell and the rest of the team could walk away from Jackson with a trophy in hand.
“It is a wonderful feeling,” he said. “Senior year — coming off a loss, putting all that work in the offseason, all the summer practicing — it really paid off now that we have that state championship.”