By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd, Robert Smith, Brad Bridges and Brandon Jackson

Alabama High School Hall of Fame coach Doug Goodwin arrived at Jackson Prep earlier this year and his goal was to win a state championship for the Patriots.

Consider it done.

Jackson Prep senior quarterback Paxton Thompson completed two long second-half touchdown passes and the Prep defense held Madison-Ridgeland Academy scoreless in the second half and took advantage of five turnovers for a 21-14 victory over three-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion MRA for the 6A state title Saturday night before an estimated 3,000 fans at Mississippi College’s Robinson-Hale Stadium in Clinton.

No. 2 seed Prep finished with a 12-1 record, won its seventh straight game, and avenged its only loss this season, a 26-14 decision to MRA Sept. 30 in the regular season. Prep won its first state title since 2018 and defeated MRA for the first time in the last five meetings. Prep’s last win over MRA was a 33-27 victory in the 2018 state championship game.

No. 1 seed MRA finished 10-4 and was denied trying to become the second team in MAIS history to win four consecutive state titles. Prep was the only team to win four or more, winning seven consecutive state titles from 2012-2018 under Coach Ricky Black. MRA had won 20 of its last 21 games and 51 of its last 53 games against MAIS competition before Saturday’s loss.

MRA jumped out to a 14-0 lead on junior quarterback John White’s 18-yard run and his 65-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Jack Poole. Thompson ran for a 60-yard TD to cut the MRA lead to 14-7 at halftime.

Prep took over in the second half. Thompson completed a 41-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver William Laird and a 71-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Will Upton, the last one with 4 minutes, 55 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Thompson completed 13 of 24 passes for 227 yards and two TDs to finish the season with 2,557 yards, a MAIS-best 31 TDs and only 9 interceptions. Upton caught five passes for 129 yards and one TD to finish the season with 62 catches for 1,200 yards and 17 TDs. Upton broke his school record for receiving yards from last year.

Goodwin won 234 games in 27 years as a head coach in Alabama. In 2008, Goodwin became the first coach in Alabama history to take three different teams to a state championship game. He led Demopolis to a 15-0 record and a state title in 2008 and set a state record with 761 points that season.

Goodwin is now a state champion in two states. He also won four more games than last year’s Prep team, which finished 8-5, the most losses since 1970, the first year of the school.

“We started slow in the first half but came out and played much better in the second half,” Goodwin said. “I thought our defense played well from start to finish. Forcing the turnovers was huge. Our defensive coaches did a great job with the plan and our players executed it very well. I’m proud of the job that Paxton did. He made some big throws and hung in there to do so. It’s great to win a championship. I’m very happy for our players, coaches, school, and parents.”

“It feels fantastic to win a state championship,” Thompson said. “All the hard work we put in for the past seven months makes it that much sweeter. We accomplished this tonight with mental and physical toughness and by outlasting them with effort. Bringing a championship back to Prep is incredible. It’s an honor to end my high school career how I did by bringing a ‘ship back to Prep where it belongs.”

Prep’s defense – led by senior linebacker Duncan Mathews (11 tackles), senior nose guard Luke Harrigill (seven tackles, three sacks), junior cornerback Micah Stallworth (one interception, five pass breakups) – kept MRA from scoring the rest of the game. Mathews finished the season with 112 tackles.

Prep intercepted White three times (Stallworth, junior linebacker Matthew Laseter and sophomore defensive back Major Quin had one each) and recovered two fumbles (Quin and senior defensive back Josh White had one recovery each). MRA’s John White had only been intercepted nine times this season before Saturday.

Prep defensive coordinator Nick Brewer, who has been a part of 13 state titles in his 24 seasons at Prep, praised his defense for their play Saturday night.

“Our kids played hard,” Brewer said. “We made some big plays. We thought we could get some pressure on White and get him out of the pocket. All of our guys played well.”

“Winning the championship was a great experience with my teammates,” said Mathews, a South Alabama baseball signee who has also won two state titles with Prep’s baseball team. “We worked hard all year long and was able to complete that one goal we worked all season for. Forcing turnovers was the main key that allowed us to be able to come out there and put a goose egg on the scoreboard in the second half. It feels amazing to be able to win a state championship. This feeling is something different to anything I’ve done before. I’m proud of all my teammates and my coaches for pushing us all year long.”

MRA, which came in averaging 35 points per game this season, didn’t score in the final 28 ½ minutes, almost 2 ½ quarters.

“We had too many turnovers,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “We had too many missed opportunities on offense. We gave up several big plays on defense. We can’t do that and beat a good team.”

Davis was trying to win his seventh state title in his 27 seasons. He has won three at MRA, two at Brookhaven Academy and one at Pillow Academy. He is the only football coach in Mississippi history to take five schools (MRA, Brookhaven Academy, Pillow Academy, Heritage Academy and Winston Academy) to state championship games.

White passed for 244 yards and one TD to finish the season with 3,175 yards and 28 TDs. MRA’s top two wide receivers Saturday night were freshmen. Gunnar Swanson caught four passes for 106 yards and Jack Poole caught five passes for 94 yards and one TD.