Friday was all about No. 7.
Paying tribute to former Mustang great Cole Whitfield, Pillow Academy put on a show.
The Mustangs blew open a 14-0 game at the half with three third-quarter touchdowns and cruised to a 35-7 victory over Starkville Academy at PA’s Bill Davis Field.
A big No. 7 was painted at midfield prior to Friday’s game to honor the 2017 PA graduate who died a week ago Saturday in West Monroe, Louisiana.
“We just really wanted to do it up right for Cole,” said senior quarterback Shane Houston Stephens. “This is pretty special for sure. I am proud of this team, and the way we rallied tonight under some tough circircumstances.”
Pillow head coach Tripp McCarty was pleased to present Whitfield’s dad, Joey Whitfield, with the game ball following the win that pushes the Mustangs to 6-1 overall, 2-1 in District 1-5A.
“We had an emotional week and day. It was kind of draining, but this is what we needed,” said McCarty, who served as a pallbearer for his former player’s funeral just two days prior to the game. “If at least for a couple of hours, we got to get out here and play and forget about some of the pain.”
Stephens owns most of the school’s passing records, and he added another to the list Friday, setting the mark for the most passing yards in school history in a single game with 351 yards. Stephens completed 17 of 30 passes with two touchdowns and also had 30 yards rushing, including scoring scampers of 6 and 7 yards.
Senior wide receiver Jaden Simcox set his personal best outing with 197 yards receiving on seven catches, averaing 28.14 yards per reception.
“Big games from both of those guys. We have kind of come to expect that from that duo,” McCarty said. “But none of that happens without strong pass protection from our offensive line. Those guys made it happen.”
It was also a banner night for the Mustang defense, which surrendered just one first down, which came on a 65-yard touchdown run. The Volunteers were held to just 107 total yards.
Senior linebacker Seth Hollis led the charge with a team-high seven tackles, including one stop for a loss. Senior linebacker Sam Harris chipped in with four, and junior nose tackle Gage Gammill had a big hit on a fourth-down stop.
“The defense came ready to play and was just lights out tonight,” McCarty said. “I can tell you that Starkville hasn’t had a running clock put on them in the second half in a long time.”
Pillow finished with a season-high 540 yards of total offense.
Senior Jack Reichle paced the ground attack for Pillow with 116 yards on 11 carries which included a 23-yard scoring run. He also had four receptions for 38 yards.
Pillow returns to action next to take on Greenville St. Joe, and then the Mustangs close out the regular season with back-to-back conference games.