The Garner Company
Photos by Russell Adcox
Story by Robert Wilson
It will go down in Hartfield Academy football history as “The Drive.”
Hartfield drove 80 yards in 19 plays in nine minutes with senior running back Xavier Davis scoring from 1-yard out to complete the winning drive in the fourth quarter for a 17-13 victory over Jackson Prep in the MAIS Class 6A semifinals at Hartfield.
Hartfield, 9-2, meets two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy, 10-3 and winners of nine straight games, for the 6A state championship next Saturday at 6 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton. This is the first time since 1997 that neither Prep nor Jackson Academy, which lost to MRA 52-14 in the other semifinal, aren’t in the state championship game of the highest classification. This is the second consecutive year that Prep hasn’t played in the championship game. Prep lost to JA in the semifinals last year, the first time Prep hasn’t been in the championship game since 2010. It turned out to be the last game for Ricky Black to coach at Prep. The former national coach of the year and Mississippi Hall of Fame member surprisingly resigned in February.
Prep, under first-year coach Tyler Turner, finished 8-5 and lost the most games since 1970, the first year of the school. Two of those losses were to Hartfield, the first one in regular season 22-17 when Hartfield rallied to score 15 points in the final three minutes and held Prep out of the end zone from the 1 on the game’s final play.
Hartfield stopped Prep this time at the Hartfield 35 on fourth down with 2 minutes to play and ran out the clock for the victory.
“This season has been so special for our team and our Hartfield community,” Hartfield coach Craig Bowman said. “I am so excited that we get to experience a state championship game.”
Bowman and his team couldn’t have done it without “the Drive.”
“Prep was playing really well in the secondary, so we just made the choice to run the ball,” Bowman said. “Our line was blocking really well so we let them take us down the field. I am so proud of the character of our team to sustain that kind of drive in a semifinal.”
Hartfield limited Prep to just 3 points in the second half.
“Our defense has been the heartbeat of our team,” Bowman said. “They play so well and are so fast. Prep made some big plays offensively, but our defense just lines up and keeps playing. I’m so proud of how hard they play.”
The offensive star for Friday night for Hartfield was Davis, who not only scored the winning TD, but also gained 214 yards on 24 carries and also caught a TD pass from senior quarterback Cruz Garner in the first half. Davis had a couple of 50-plus runs.
“Xavier is a special player,” Bowman said. “He is dynamic running back and can score from anywhere. Xavier has great vision. I am excited that he had such a great game tonight.”
After exchanging field goals (Hartfield’s Weston Adcock and Prep’s Louie Gatlin), Garner hit Davis for a TD and Prep’s William Daes scored a rushing TD for a 10-10 halftime tie.
After Hartfield’s long drive, Prep had a chance to win late in the game and drove to the Hartfield 30. But on fourth-and-10, Hartfield senior defensive lineman Jay Smith and sophomore linebacker Chris Jones sacked Prep junior quarterback Paxton Thompson to end the threat with 2:23 to play. Hartfield limited Prep to only 72 yards in the second half.
“Congrats to Hartfield on a well-played game,” Turner said. “They won the time of possession battle, and we didn’t capitalize on a few opportunities offensively. We are disappointed in the outcome, but we aren’t disappointed in our preparation. Our kids worked their tails off to get better this season in a completely new system and for that I am proud. This group of seniors couldn’t be any better for a new head coach to work with and I’ll always cherish my time and the relationships we have built and will continue to build in the future.”