The Hartfield Academy Hawks faced the Jackson Prep Patriots in the MAIS Class 6A Football State Championship game on Saturday, November 18, 2023, at Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. Photo by Chris Todd

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Photos by Chris Todd and Hays Collins

Story by Robert Wilson

There is a new football state champion from Lakeland Drive in Flowood and for the first time in MAIS history, it isn’t Jackson Prep.

Hartfield Academy, in its 12th year as a school, won its first state football championship and defeated defending Class 6A state champion Jackson Prep 21-0 Saturday night for the 6A state title before an estimated 5,500 at Mississippi College’s Robinson-Hale Stadium in Clinton.

No. 1 seed Hartfield, just three years after moving up to the highest classification in the MAIS, became the first MAIS Class 6A team to finish 14-0. MRA is the last 6A team to finish undefeated with a 13-0 record in 2020. Prep was 13-0 in 2017, 2015, 2012 and 2007. JA finished 13-0 in 2011.

No. 3 seed Prep finished 10-4 and lost to Hartfield for the second time this season. Hartfield scored 16 points in the second half to defeat Prep 30-17 in the regular season meeting Oct. 13 at Prep. Prep has won a MAIS record 26 state football championships.

Hartfield’s stingy defense – led by several Division I prospects like senior linebacker and Southern Mississippi commitment Chris Jones, junior defensive lineman and SEC prospect Reginald Vaughn and sophomore defensive back and SEC prospect Bralan Womack – kept Prep out of the end zone and limited Prep to 155 total yards, only 9 rushing yards. Prep never got inside the Hartfield 20. The deepest threat to score was when Prep drove to the Hartfield 24 and on fourth down, sophomore Eli Adams’ 41-yard field goal attempt was wide with 1 minute before halftime.

The last time Prep was shutout was 2004 when Jackson Academy defeated Prep 21-0 for the state championship.

Prep’s offensive front – which averages 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds – were unable to control Hartfield’s defensive front of Vaughn (6-3, 250), junior London Simmons (6-3, 265), senior Jordan Erves (6-foot, 275) and junior Brandon Turner (5-6, 214) like it did Madison-Ridgeland Academy last week. Prep had 299 rushing yards in its 28-25 semifinal win over MRA.

Hartfield junior quarterback Cayman Tapper completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Bralan Womack for a 7-0 lead with 6 minutes, 13 seconds to play in the second quarter.

Jones scored on a 4-yard run to complete a 90-yard, 12-play drive for a 14-0 lead with 11:29 to play in the game.

Senior running back and Southern Miss commitment Reed Jesiolowski, who gained 223 yards on 30 carries, scored on a 3-yard run for a 21-0 lead with 7:02 to play.

Jesiolowski finished the season with 2,017 yards and 23 TDs and despite not playing more than a half in many games.

Hartfield coach Craig Bowman, in his fourth season at Hartfield and seventh as a head coach (three at Canton Academy), won his first state championship. Along the way to his undefeated season, Bowman defeated three coaches – Lafayette’s Anthony Hart, MRA’s Herbert Davis and Prep’s Doug Goodwin (twice) – who had at least 200 career victories, quite an accomplishment.

“There are not enough words to talk about this team and our story,” Bowman said. “We prayed together. We trusted each other. This team loves each other and that is what makes them so special. Winning a state championship was the ultimate goal and we did it. This team will leave a legacy for every football team at our school to follow. I am so grateful to be a part of this program and this school, and it brings me great joy to bring that trophy to our community.”

“We didn’t play very clean in the first half but we just cared about winning and however we had to do that we were going to do it,” Jesiolowski said. “We played much better in the second half of game and the offensive line blocked real well for me. It was a long night. I think I had 30 carries. I was pretty tired but we had to do whatever we can to get the win. It feels great to have finished the season undefeated and makes it even better.”

Prep coach Doug Goodwin fell one game short of winning his second consecutive state title since coming to Prep two years ago. Goodwin has a 22-5 record at Prep and came from Alabama where he was a Hall of Fame coach. He won 234 games in 27 years as a head coach. 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.

“Hartfield whipped us pretty good upfront most of the night,” Goodwin said. “We moved the ball well at times but couldn’t sustain anything. We dropped several passes that contributed to that greatly. Our guys played hard. It just wasn’t enough.”

Prep junior quarterback Billy Puckett completed 14 of 23 passes for 146 yards but was sacked seven times. He gained 157 yards against MRA but was able to break away from Hartfield for long runs like last week.