Photo by Bobby McDuffie

By Robert Wilson

       After trailing by one point to Madison Central early in the third quarter, Starkville coach Chris Jones’ message to his team was simple:

       Said Jones: “Simply finish.”

       And finish Starkville did, as the Yellowjackets scored 21 consecutive points and shut out the Jaguars for the reminder of the second half for a 35-15 victory in the MHSAA Class 7A semifinals Friday night at Starkville’s Yellowjacket Stadium.

       Starkville improved to 10-3 and advanced to meet Oak Grove, 11-1 and a 49-45 winner over Brandon, Friday at x p.m. for the 7A state championship at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Starkville will try to win its second consecutive state title in the biggest class -it won 6A last season. South Panola is the last team to win two straight state titles (2009-10) in the highest class. Starkville will also try to win its sixth state title since the MHSAA started state championships in 1981. South Panola has a Mississippi record 11 state titles. Starkville and Moss Point are tied with five in the highest class.

       Madison Central, which lost to Starkville 39-7 in the regular season, finished 8-6. Madison Central won the 6A state title two years ago.

       Starkville took a 14-0 lead on senior quarterback and Illinois commitment Trey Petty’s touchdown 42-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jaiden Turnipseed and Petty’s 10-yard TD run. Madison Central bounced back and junior quarterback Jaiden Johnson’s 28-yard pass to senior running back Glen Singleton, Singleton’s 5-yard TD run and senior Shane Gilliam’s 2-point conversion for a 15-14 lead with 9 minutes, 28 seconds to play in the third quarter.

       Then Petty and senior wide receiver and LSU commitment Braylon Burnside regained the momentum. Petty completed TD passes of 56 and 64 yards to Burnside within a minute of each other midway through the third quarter to give Starkville a 28-15 lead.

       After Starkville stopped Madison Central on fourth down at the Starkville 5, senior running back Jay Stevenson ran for a 95-yard TD with 3:39 to play.

       Petty completed 9 of 12 passes for 235 yards and three TDs. Burnside had five catches for 160 yards and two TDs. Stevenson had 13 carries for 150 yards and one TD.

       “I am happy for my players and coaches for finding a way to get it done through the course of the season,” said Jones, who has a 122-31 career record – an outstanding 79.7 winning percentage – and two state titles (one each at Kemper County and one at Starkville) in his 11 seasons as head coach. He has a 74-18 record in his seven seasons in Starkville. “Through the good games and bad games, we continued to get better week by week. Hopefully, we can put one more good week together and find a way to finish the deal.”

       “I thought our kids played hard all night,” Madison Central coach Toby Collums said. “We made a few too many mistakes and that’s something you can’t do when you’re playing Trey Petty and company. Congrats to Starkville and Chris Jones for finding a way to back-to-back championship games.”