VICKSBURG — Some players struggle through fatigue and don’t finish plays when they’re tired. Not Maleke Bell.
The Starkville defensive end has been waiting on his moment all year. Bell rang the loudest at the most critical part of the game and helped set up the Yellowjackets’ final touchdown in a 28-10 win over No. 7 Warren Central.
“When we play, when we’re tired, we make good plays,” Bell said. “When I run to the ball, I make good plays. I either make him fumble or he gets out of the game for being hurt.”
With 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, No. 2 Starkville (9-1, 6-0) saw Warren Central chipping away at its 21-10 lead. The Vikings scored all their points in the third quarter and threatened to cross the plane of the end zone again on a second-and-goal situation from the Starkville 5-yard line.
Bell had his eye on Vikings quarterback Jesse Wilson. The senior took off and lunged toward the junior, stripping the ball that was recovered by his teammate Nelson Jordan.
“I kind of read the offensive line because he got down like he was (going to) pull or he was (going to) reach me,” he said. “So I went ahead and played through my instincts.
Twelve plays later, after regaining possession, Starkville flexed its muscle in the run game. Avery Brown scored a touchdown from 15 yards out to help the Yellowjackets go up 28-10.
“Offensively I thought we played our best game by far,” Starkville coach Ricky Woods said. “First half we couldn’t play any better. Second half they did some adjustments. When we came out and finally ran the football, we got them tired. That’s really what we tried to do all night long is get them tired.”
The Yellowjackets put up nearly 300 yards of offense on Warren Central (7-2, 5-1) with 146 yards coming in the run game.
At the half, Starkville had built a 21-0 lead on Warren Central. Montario Montgomery found Rontavius Clark, Parker Lemm and A.J. Brown for three receiving touchdowns in the first and second quarters.
The Yellowjackets dominated the first half, but an ugly third quarter almost put Starkville’s chances at the region title in jeopardy.
Warren Central utilized a fake punt to keep a drive alive at the start of the third period. After eating up nearly five minutes off the clock, Denarius Knight scored from 1-yard out to put Warren Central on the board at 21-7. The Vikings scored a 30-yard field goal on their next drive, but it proved too little too late after a scoreless first half.
“We got a fake punt that kind of got us going and were able to stick it in,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “The crowd got behind us and we started to get a little momentum built up. Just proud of the way they fought (in) the second half. They could have easily laid it down.”
Starkville hosts Clinton in its final regular-season game next Friday for a chance to lock up the Region 2-6A title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs for a second straight year.
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.
Maleke Bell, Starkville
The senior defensive lineman forced a fumble that was recovered by Starkville and set up the Yellowjackets’ fourth touchdown of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Starkville’s defense had two sacks for a loss of 26 yards.