Photos by Jared Thomas and Robert Smith
Story by Robert Wilson
Jackson Academy senior wide receiver Deion Smith, an Under Armour All-American who rated as the No. 1 player in Mississippi and the No. 7 wide receiver in the country, was sidelined Friday night after having foot surgery this week.
But he got to watch his younger brother, Dan, put on a show. Dan, a sophomore wide receiver, caught a 37-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Jackson Conn with 47 seconds to play to give JA a 28-21, come-from-behind victory over Jackson Prep in the MAIS Class 6A semifinals at Prep.
Dan Smith caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two TDs for JA, which ended a 12-game losing streak to Prep. JA had not beaten Prep since the 2013 regular season. The Raiders rallied from a 21-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter to stop the streak.
JA, 10-3, won its sixth straight game and meets defending 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy, 11-0 and a 42-14 winner over Presbyterian Christian in the other semifinal, Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. MRA defeated JA 20-10 Sept. 4 at JA. MRA has won 18 straight games and 29 of its last 30 vs. MAIS teams. Prep, which defeated JA 30-10 Oct. 2 at Prep, finished 7-3 and won’t be playing for the state championship for the first time since 2010. JA hasn’t won a state championship since winning three straight from 2009-2011.
The Smith brothers transferred from Provine this fall after Jackson Public Schools decided to cancel its football season. Deion, who has verbally committed to defending national champion LSU, was averaging 19.7 yards every time he touched the ball for JA this season and had 988 all-purpose yards and 10 TDs in eight games before going down early in the first quarter in last week’s win over Parklane.
Dan had caught 26 passes for 443 yards and two TDs and ran seven times for 92 yards and one TD going into Friday’s game. Dan caught four passes for 69 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 17-yard catch on the JA sideline on third down and on the next play, the winning, 37-yard TD catch despite being double-covered.
While Dan made the winning catch, JA junior running back Marcus Harris was the workhorse with 30 carries for 205 yards, including a 75-yard TD run with 7:40 to play with pull the Raiders to a 21-21 tie. Harris now has 1,447 yards and 23 TDs this season.
After Dan’s winning catch, Prep drove to the JA 43 before JA senior defensive lineman Simms Baker knocked down Riley Maddox’s pass on fourth and 6 to give JA the ball with 8 seconds to play. Conn completed 19 of 28 passes for 212 yards and three TDs.
JA senior cornerback Ladarius Webb Jr., a Nebraska commit, had a team-high eight tackles and made an interception in the end zone to stop a Prep drive with 6:38 to play in the third quarter with Prep leading 21-7. Webb also caught a 40-yard TD pass from Conn to bring JA within 21-14 with 9:58 to play.
The JA victory denied Prep coach Ricky Black his 402nd victory. Black became the second high football coach in Mississippi history to win 400 games with a 23-0 victory over Parklane Oct. 23. Black ranks No. 19 among active high school football coaches in the country in victories and is ranked No. 38 in all-time victories entering this season. First-year JA coach Lance Pogue got his first victory in this rivalry as a head coach. Pogue, who won a national championship and five state titles in 10 seasons at South Panola, was JA’s defensive coordinator for the past three seasons before taking over for Larry Weems as head coach after last season.
Prep senior running back Matt Jones scored two TDs, a 6-yard run and a 3-yard pass from Maddox. Jones had 87 yards and finished the season with 895 yards. Maddox scored Prep’s other TD on a 1-yard run.
Prep senior linebacker Braedon Mabry had a team-high nine tackles and recovered a fumble.