By Robert Wilson
FLOWOOD – Hartfield Academy came into Friday’s big MAIS Class 6A conference matchup with Jackson Prep with a lot of adversity.
The Hawks had to try to focus and come back down to Earth just a week from their emotional conference victory over Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
One of Hartfield’s best players – senior linebacker and Southern Miss commitment Chris Jones – injured his knee last week and wasn’t sure he was going to play and even if he did, he would not be at full speed.
Hartfield’s star running back – senior and Southern Miss commitment Reed Jesioloswki – was slowed by a nagging shoulder injury.
Hartfield sophomore linebacker Coleman Williams, who led the team in tackles and had two interceptions last week in the MRA win, had knee surgery this week and missed the game Friday.
And Hartfield talented junior defensive lineman Reginald Vaughn was trying to concentrate and play his first game after his father Reginald passed away last weekend.
Despite all those factors, Hartfield defeated Jackson Prep 30-17 to win its school-record 10th game without a loss this season before an estimated 3,000 fans at Prep’s Patriot Field.
Hartfield’s win, combined with the win over MRA last week, puts them in first place in the league with a 3-0 record and in good position to finish as the No. 1 seed and receive a first-round bye in the state playoffs. It was the first time Hartfield had played Prep since losing in both meetings last season, including a 10-7 decision in the 6A state semifinals last season.
Prep came in ranked No. 15 and Hartfield No. 22 in Mississippi by MaxPreps.
Prep dropped to 7-2 overall and 2-1 in league play, tied with MRA. Prep plays MRA next week as they battle for the No. 2 seed and the other first-round bye.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Jesiolowski – running like a freight train – was difficult to bring down and had 161 rushing yards on 28 carries and caught two passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, with many of those yards after the first Prep player unsuccessfully tried to tackle him. Jesiolowski, who broke the school single season rushing record last week against MRA, now has 1,311 rushing yards and 17 TDs and 186 receiving yards and three TDs this season. He made a one-handed grab with his left hand on a pass from junior quarterback Cayman Tapper and ran about 60 yards down the Prep sideline for a score to complete a 68-yard pass play late in the first quarter.
“We came out a little slow and didn’t play our best half and got in the locker room and regrouped,” said Jesiolowski, who wore a shoulder brace during the game. “We went back out and played very physical and our offensive line played amazing. We just stayed on them for the whole half.”
Tapper completed 11 of 16 passes for 218 yards and three TDs, one to Jesiolowski and one each to junior wide receiver Kenzy West and sophomore wide receiver Bralan Womack, both for 19 yards.
Junior quarterback Billy Puckett completed a 13-yard TD pass to senior tight end and his brother Peyton Puckett, running back Thomas Oswalt ran for a 10-yard TD and sophomore Eli Adams kicked a 45-yard field goal for a 17-14 Prep lead at halftime.
But it was all Hartfield in the second half, especially the Hawk defense, which allowed only 36 total yards and kept Prep out of the end zone in the second half. The 6-3, 254-pound Vaughn (with six SEC offers, including two-time defending national champion Georgia), Jones (who didn’t start, but played well considering his knee injury), Womack (who also starts as a defensive back and has six SEC offers even as a sophomore) and West (who also doubles as a defensive back) bottled up the middle and locked down the Prep receivers in the second half.
“We made some great adjustments at the half,” said Hartfield coach Craig Bowman, who is in his seventh season as a head coach (four at Hartfield and three at Canton Academy) and defeated his third consecutive coach with 200 plus career wins (Lafayette’s Anthony Hart, MRA’s Herbert Davis and Prep’s Doug Goodwin). “I also calmed the guys down and reminded them that they are prepared and all we have to do is be ourselves. We came out looking more like the Hartfield team that has played all year. Chris and Reed worked hard all week and got themselves in a position to play. I am proud of our effort and our maturity.”
Hartfield defensive coordinator Jeff McFerran was especially pleased with his unit’s performance in the second half.
“Our defensive staff was very proud of the effort our kids gave in the second half,” McFerran said. “We adjusted at half to a four-man front and played a lot of man coverage. Reggie Vaughn and (6-2, 265-pound junior defensive lineman) London Simmons played a great second half, but the key to the game was the secondary. (Defensive backs) Coach (Rip) Lindsay got them focused and challenged them to play man in the second half. Kenzy West, Bralan Womack, (senior) Bralen Steele, and (senior) Alex Rushing were fantastic in the second half.”
It was the least number of points Hartfield had scored since a 29-0 victory over Heritage Academy in the season opener and half of what the Hawks scored last week in the 63-56 win over MRA. But the defense was solid this week, especially in the second half. Vaughn, who had a team-high eight tackles, four for loss, and had two sacks, pointed to the sky after last sack on Prep’s last series of the game as if to give recognition to his late father. Prep limited Puckett to only 10 of 21 passes and 126 yards and two interceptions (by West and Jones), which stopped a pair of Prep scoring opportunities.
“Reggie had an amazing game,” Bowman said. “I know how hard it was for him after suddenly losing his father on Sunday. They are a very tight family. I was happy to see all of his friends and family that come out to support him last night for the game. Our team and Hartfield community has really come around them.”
Prep second-year coach Doug Goodwin – an Alabama High School Sports Hall of Famer who won 234 games in a 27-year career in Alabama – lost for only the third time, and second MAIS game, since starting his Mississippi high school coaching career last season.
“Defensively, I felt like we were just overmatched from the start,” Goodwin said. “Offensively, I thought we played pretty well in the first half. We didn’t execute well in the second half. Special teams I felt like were good both halves. The two turnovers were killers. You can’t turn the ball over against a good team and expect to win.”