After a tough loss to rival Carroll Academy, Winona Christian football coach Junior Graham decided it was time to go back to the basics.
The Stars did that as they ran for a season-high 326 yards and took a 33-19 win over Class 4A Kirk Academy on Friday night.
Winona Christian improves to 6-2 on the season and will host Marshall Academy (5-3) in a battle of 3A contenders.
Graham said after the Carroll loss, he decided his team needed to run the ball more and committed to that in practice.
“That’s what we decided to do and made a commitment to it in practice,” Graham said. “I thought if we were going to move forward, we were going to have to run the ball more. I thought our kids responded to that. Our offensive line played their best game of the season, and I thought our receivers did a great job of blocking. I was really proud of the way our kids responded.”
The Stars got on the board first in the passing game when John White hit Hayden Self on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Steele Mims booted the PAT, and Winona led 7-0 at the end of the first half.
Kirk tied the game back up in the second quarter when they scored on a four-yard run and booted the PAT to make the score 7-7.
Winona then took the lead before the half when White hit Jake Ware on a 26-yard pass. Mims hit the PAT, and Winona led 14-7 at the half.
“We sort of caught them off guard,” Graham said. “The two films they had on us we had thrown it all over the field, and everybody had been so conscious of taking away Dalton [Wiggins] in the passing game. So we went to more of a power set and went from no huddle to huddling after every play. And we made some moves on defense and moved some people around. I thought all of those changes really helped us out.”
The Raiders pulled close in the third period as they scored on a five-yard run ,but the PAT was blocked and Winona held a 14-13 lead.
The Stars started to pull away in the third, led by the strong running of Blake Cooper, who scored on runs of 11 and 16 yards as the Star led 27-13 going into the fourth quarter.
Kirk again pulled closer as they scored on a one-yard run to make the score 27-19.
But Winona put the game away with a 15-yard run in the fourth for the final margin.
The Stars had 389 yards of total offense with 326 rushing and 63 passing. Cooper had 206 yards rushing on 18 carries and two TDs while White was 5-of-11 passing for 63 yard.
On defense, Winona held Kirk to 246 yards rushing and 32 passing for 278 total yards. Hayden Self had another big game as he had 13 tackles while Bradley Pinkard had 10 tackles.
“I was proud of the way the defense played,” Graham said. “It’s the first time all year that we didn’t give up any significant gains on defense. They had the running back from Charleston, and I thought we did a good job of hemming him up. We didn’t give up anything in the passing game, and that’s a big thing for us defensively.”
The Stars will have senior night as they host Marshall Academy on Friday night.
The Patriots are 5-3 on the season. They have losses to Magnolia Heights (28-0), Kirk (20-18) and North Delta (14-0). They have wins over East Rankin (24-20), Myrtle (14-0), Rossville Christian (50-0), Oak Hill (32-14) and Tunica (25-12).
“They have won their division in 3A and are big and physical, a typical Marshall team,” Graham said. “They are very talented and athletic and have the size to go along with it. They have played some bigger schools. They moved the ball against Magnolia Heights, but just couldn’t put it in the end zone. We will have our hands full, that’s for sure.”
Graham said Winona and Marshall were tied in power points so he’s treating the last two games like the playoffs.
“We need to play a physical game, and I think we will get one with Marshall,” Graham said. “The way things are lining up, we could easily fall in the bracket with Carroll and Indianola. If we are going to have any chance at beating either one of them, we have to be able to win a physical football game.”