By Brad Locke

Daily Journal

Starkville’s cleared plenty of hurdles this season. It needs to clear one more if it hopes to make the playoffs.

The Yellowjackets close regular-season play tonight when they host Columbus in a game that will determine the fourth and final playoff berth from Region 1-5A. Starkville (5-5, 3-3) will be without starting tailback Patrick Shed, who injured his ankle in last week’s 25-10 loss to South Panola.

“Like Coach (Ed) Orgeron up there at Ole Miss, you don’t know who’s going to be playing with you come Friday,” Starkville head coach Bill Lee said.

Lee had to suspend four defensive linemen earlier this season and has had several players injured. On top of that, Starkville played its first five games on the road, going 3-2. The ’Jackets have lost two straight, albeit to Olive Branch and South Panola.

Now with Shed out, Lee will plug in four different backs in hopes of taking some pressure off quarterback Brad Henderson.

Columbus (3-6, 2-4) brings in a run-heavy scheme, but if there’s one thing Starkville has done well lately, it’s play defense. Neither the Olive Branch nor South Panola game got out of hand.

“It’s great we can compete like that two weeks in a row,” Lee said. “But now you’ve got to put that competitiveness back-to-back-to-back.”

Real playoffs begin

This is essentially a playoff game for Starkville. For teams in Classes 2A, 3A and 4A the playoffs begin for real tonight.

West Point (9-1), ranked No. 1 in the Daily Journal Large Schools poll, opens its 4A state championship defense when it hosts Northeast Lauderdale. First-year coach Chris Chambless, an assistant under Dennis Allen his first seven seasons at West Point, is leading a team that lost several starters from last season.

“It’s hard to compare (to last year’s team), because there are so many different faces,” Chambless said. “But we’re playing well together, and our coaching staff is doing a wonderful job.

“We’ve got the right fit around here.”

In all, 21 area teams begin playoff action tonight.

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