By Robert Wilson
Photos by Hays Collins
(Photo gallery at end of article)
Sponsored by Magnolia Unlimited – Harrigill Real Estate And Greenville Christian Academy
Greenville Christian School coach Jon Reed McLendon got a call from an Arkansas Razorback coach Sunday night about D.J. Smith after his star quarterback accounted for 543 yards and seven touchdowns in a surprising, lopsided victory over two-time defending Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
McLendon’s cell phone will likely be blowing up with calls from a lot of college coaches after what Smith did Friday night.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Smith passed for an amazing 589 yards – four short of the Mississippi record – and six TDs to lead Greenville Christian to a 48-13 victory over Jackson Prep to spoil the debut of coach Tyler Turner.
Greenville Christian, the two-time defending MAIS Class 3A state champion, improved to 2-0 and won its 13rd straight game and second straight over a Class 6A team on the road. It was the third most points scored against Prep in the school’s 50-year history – MRA scored 50 last year and Jackson Academy 49 in 2009 – and it was the worst home loss in school history.
“I’m really proud to come out of there with a win tonight,” McLendon said. “Prep really got after us inside tonight. They really fought us in the box and didn’t make things easy. I thought they were intent on not letting us run the ball, so it opened some things on the outside in the passing game. D.J.did a great job of distributing the football and making good throws that allowed our receivers to run after the catch. I thought he was really reallygood tonight, made some big-time throws. Even on a couple of balls that we missed; he was dropping them in on the money.”
Smith completed 27 of 39 passes for his yardage total, which was just short of the Mississippi record of 593 yards, set by MRA’s Philip Short also against Prep in the 2019 state championship game. Smith completed TD passes of 80 yards (Chris Bell), 75 (Will Riley), 65 (K.D. Rancifer), 42 (Bell), 18 (Ladarius Davenport) and 11 (Rancifer).
Smith completed 12 of 19 passes for 319 yards in the first half as Greenville Christian jumped out to a 34-13 lead. His 65-yard TD pass to Bell and Smith’s 2-point conversion run put the lead at 28-3 with 7 minutes, 8 seconds to play in the second quarter.
MRA saw Smith’s talent last week. Smith threw for 312 yards and five TDsand ran for 214 yards on 20 carries and two scores and two 2-point conversions in the 58-32 victory to end MRA’s 19-game winning streak and 22-game home winning streak. Smith has offers from Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe, and now Arkansas is interested. Probably more will be calling McLendon this weekend.
For the first time in 25 years, former National High School Football Coach of the Year and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Ricky Black wasn’t coaching the Patriots. Black resigned in February after winning 263 games and 13 state titles – seven in a row from 2012-2018 – in 24 seasons. He is the second winningest coach in Mississippi history with 401 career victories. Turner, 35 and more than half the age of Black, has been a head coach for six seasons with a 67-15 record, the last stop at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.
But Turner’s opener was one of the toughest in Prep’s history, especially against an MAIS opponent. Greenville Christian had three players who have already committed to Division I schools, 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior cornerback Jaterrious Elam (Mississippi State), 6-3, 220-pound Bell (Southern Miss) and 6-3, 230-pound senior linebacker J.D. Stewart (Southern Miss). Greenville Christian has 17 starters back from their team, which won its last nine games by an average of 36 points.
“We are very disappointed in the way we played tonight, and Greenville Christian had a lot to do with that,” Turner said. “Hats off to them on a well-played game. We have to get back to work and get better as a whole this week and get ready for Heritage Academy.”
Prep, which hasn’t won a state title since 2018, returns only eight starters – only one on defense – from last year’s 7-3 team, which lost to Jackson Academy in the 6A semifinals and missed being in the state title game for the first time since 2010. Prep also lost five MAIS games in the past two years for the first time since 2004-2005.
To make matters worse, Prep lost one of its best players, senior wide receiver-defensive back-kick returner Luke Williams, to an ankle injury in the first quarter.
“Greenville Christian has a lot of athletes and they did what athletes do – they made plays,” Prep defensive coordinator Nick Brewer said. “We played passive on defense in the first half. We are going to have some growing pains on defense. We didn’t fly around the football and didn’t tackle well, especially in the first half. We gave up too many big plays.”
Senior running back Sam McMullan scored Prep’s only TD – a 4-yard run with 1:41 to go before halftime to cut the lead to 34-13. McMullan gained 91 yards on 35 carries. Senior kicker Louis Gatlin kicked field goals of 46 and 36 yards and one extra point.