Story by Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd (photo gallery at bottom)

Sponsored by: Thompson Addison pllc, Greenville Christian School and Magnolia Unlimited LLC

Greenville Christian School surprised the MAIS football world Friday night with an impressive, 58-32 victory over Madison-Ridgeland Academy, ending the Patriots’ 19-game winning streak and 22-game home winning streak before an estimated 2,200 fans at MRA’s home field in Madison in a season opening game between two MAIS state champions. Defending MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian won its 12th straight game and showed that it can compete with the best teams in MAIS, defeating two-time defending MAIS 6A state champion MRA. The Patriots, playing without Under Armour All-American and senior linebacker Stone Blanton (still being out after shoulder surgery this spring), could not slow down Greenville Christian’s explosive offense. The Saints scored 28 points in the first 14 minutes of the game – that’s more than any team scored on MRA in an entire game last season – and then scored 30 more points in the second half. Greenville Christian ended the game on the MRA 5-yard line and knelt several times to run out the clock or they might have scored in the 60s. Senior quarterback D.J. Smith was spectacular, completing 22 of 39 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns and running for 214 yards on 20 carries and two TDs and two two-point conversions. So was senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commitment Chris Bell, a transfer from Yazoo City High who caught three TD passes and had two more nullified, one by offensive pass interference and another one that he was ruled out of the back of the end zone. And then there was senior running back Marlon Palmer, a 5-foot-8, 205-pound bull who ran for two TDs and kept many drives alive by breaking tackle after tackle for big gains. “This is a huge win for our program. I’m very proud of our kids,” Greenville Christian coach Jon Reed McLendon, who is in his eighth year at GCS. “Our defense was huge (MRA scored only twice after the first quarter). The way they played I thought allowed us to feel comfortable continuing to run our offense. We didn’t feel like we had to score every possession to stay in it, which allowed us to keeping playing loose on offense. Also, I thought it was impressive the way we came out and finished in the second half. I was scared that we were starting to get a little tired at the end of the first half, but we challenged the guys to gut it out and finish, and they answered the bell.” This was an MRA program who had taken over from Jackson Prep as the dominant football team in the MAIS. The Patriots had won 31 of its last 32 games against MAIS competition and 36 of its last 39 games before Friday. MRA was coming off a 41-14 victory over Jackson Academy for its second straight MAIS 6A state title. But the Patriots, with 11 returning starters from last year’s 12-0 team, couldn’t stay with Greenville Christian Friday night. MRA and Greenville Christian started out trading touchdown for touchdown and scoring a combined 40 points in the first quarter. MRA sophomore quarterback and Winona Christian transfer John White, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 310 yards and five TDs, connected with junior wide receiver Street Toler for a 49-yard score one minute into the game. It was the first of three TD catches for Toler in the first quarter. But Greenville Christian answered with a 52-yard TD pass from Smith to Bell just a minute later. A 5-yard Smith run early in the second quarter gave Greenville Christian a 22-18 lead and the Saints never trailed again. Greenville Christian had 352 total yards by halftime. They finished with 573 total yards. “We didn’t execute and, shoot, they are a very good team,” said MRA coach Herbert Davis, who was denied his 210th career win in 25 seasons. “They hurt on some big pass plays. We’ve got to get back to the basics. It’s all about us. We need to find out what kind of team we have.” MRA plays at Natchez Cathedral next week. Greenville Christian takes on another 6A school, Jackson Prep, in Flowood next week in coach Tyler Turner’s debut for Prep. Wright replaced Ricky Black, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member and the second winningest coach in Mississippi history. Black resigned after 263 wins and 13 state titles in 24 seasons at Prep.