By Robert Wilson
Photography by Bobby McDuffie
Starkville, which barely made the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs as a No. 4 seed, won its eighth straight game to capture the school’s seventh state football championship Saturday night at Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
Meanwhile, Brandon was denied its first state championship in school history for the second straight season.
Junior quarterback and Division I prospect Trey Petty accounted for 256 yards and five touchdowns to lead Starkville to a 48-32 victory for the 6A state title.
Starkville finished with a 12-3 record and won its seventh state title, the last one in 2015, led by wide receiver AJ Brown, the former Ole Miss All-American now in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Starkville lost its first three Class 6A, Region 2 games before winning its last four to make the playoffs. The Yellowjackets defeated Southaven 38-12, Clinton 30-2 and previously undefeated Tupelo 41-32 in the playoffs before winning Saturday night.
Starkville coach Chris Jones won his second state championship after winning one at Kemper County in 2016 before left for Starkville. He now has a 112-28 overall record (80.0 winning percentage) in 10 seasons, a 67-16 record in six seasons in Starkville and a 45-12 record in four seasons at Kemper County.
Brandon finished 12-2 and coach Sam Williams took his Bulldogs to the state title game for the second time in as many seasons as Brandon’s head coach. Madison Central defeated Brandon 24-17 in last year’s 6A state title game. Williams was named the PriorityOne Bank Metro Jackson Coach of the Year last season after turning around the Bulldogs with a remarkable year in his first season in Brandon. He doubled Brandon’s win total after taking over a team that had a 5-6 record in 2020. Williams, who played at Northwest Rankin and Mississippi State, has a 60-19 career record (75.9 winning percentage) in six seasons, 23-4 in two seasons at Brandon, 10-3 in one season at Ridgeland and 27-11 in three seasons at Pelahatchie.
Brandon was able to reach the state title game last year without starting running back Nate Blount due to an injury and the Bulldogs reached the state title this season without starting running back and Louisiana Tech commitment Jarvis Durr for the last six games of the season due to an injury. Durr did come in and ran twice for 32 yards in the second half Saturday night.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Petty, who was slowed by an ankle injury during Starkville’s losing streak this season, carried Starkville to the state title Saturday night. Petty – who is rated No. 15 player in Mississippi in the Class of 2024 by 247 Sports and has been offered by Mississippi State, Southern Miss, and San Diego State – completed 13 of 19 passes for 194 yards and two TD passes and ran 23 times for 62 yards and three TDs. He finished the season with 2,737 passing yards and 30 passing TDs.
“I feel like Trey is the best quarterback in the state,” Jones said. “Nothing he does surprises me. He had a great game tonight and has played well this season. I’m so proud of the kids on this team and I’m happy that they won a state championship.”
Petty had a pair of 1-yard TD runs and completed a 22-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver Braylon Burnside to give Starkville a 21-0 lead before senior Will Elliott made a 38-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to get Brandon on the board.
Petty added his third TD on a 2-yard run to open the second half to push Starkville’s lead to 28-3 with 11:11 to play in the third quarter. Brandon junior Nate Blount – who finished with 180 yards on 24 carries and two TDs and ta a pair of two-point conversions – scored on a 7-yard run to close the gap to 28-10 with 7:31 to play in the third quarter.
Petty completed a 13-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Javion York and sophomore running back Courtland Cooper had TD runs of 12 and 14 yards in the fourth quarter. Brandon junior quarterback Landon Varnes completed two TD passes of 14 and 11 yards to senior wide receiver and Akron (Ohio) commitment Lester Miller for Brandon’s scores in the fourth quarter.
The 5-9, 230-pound Blount finished with 1,985 yards and 26 TDs this season. He had 35 carries for 193 yards and two TDs last week against Ocean Springs and 34 carries for 295 yards and five TDs two weeks ago against Warren Central.
Varnes, who completed 20 of 38 passes for 297 yards and two TDs against Starkville, finished with 3,363 passing yards and 26 TDs this season. Miller, who caught eight passes for 168 yards and two TDs against Starkville, finished with 65 catches for 1,484 yards and 16 TDs this season.
“We didn’t do enough to win the game tonight,” Williams said. “We fought hard like we did every game of the season, but just ran out of time. It is hard to take positives out of losing a state championship, but I am proud of this group, proud of these seniors. We just have to find a way to finish that final game.”