By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith and Brandon Jackson
FLOWOOD – Despite having numerous Division I level players, many Mississippi high school fans weren’t sure how good Hartfield Academy’s football team was because the Hawks had not been tested this season.
Hartfield – behind incredible performances by the trio of sophomore defensive back-wide receiver Bralan Womack, senior running back Reed Jesiolowski and junior wide receiver-defensive back Kenzy West – passed its toughest test of the season Friday night, and it did without one of its best players in the second half after linebacker-running back and Southern Miss commitment Chris Jones went out with a knee injury in the second quarter.
Hartfield 63, Madison-Ridgeland Academy 56.
Womack sealed the win when he made a great play on an interception at the Hartfield 2 with 16 seconds to play.
The overflow crowd of 3,000 at Hartfield’s Community Bank Stadium had to be exhausted after watching this MAIS Class 6A conference shootout.
Hartfield came into Friday night with an 8-0 record but had played against only two teams with winning records this season. The Hawks showed they could play Friday against one of the top programs in Mississippi and win.
Hartfield improved to 9-0 overall and 2-0 in league play. MRA dropped to 5-3 and 1-1 in league play. It was MRA’s first loss to a MAIS team this season, after close losses to four-time defending Arkansas state champion Pulaski Academy and MHSAA Class 7A state championship contender Oak Grove.
Hartfield scored more than 40 points for the seventh time and more than 50 points for the fourth time this season. MRA has scored 42 points or more in every game this season.
Womack showed why he has offered by two-time defending national champion Georgia and five more from SEC teams even though he is just a sophomore.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Womack had some electrifying plays Friday. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, a 98-yarder in the second quarter and a 99-yarder to open up the second half. Womack also caught two TD passes from senior quarterback Cayman Tapper, a 25-yarder in the final minute of the first half and a 20-yarder in the third quarter. In addition to his game-saving interception, Womack had several pass breakups during the game.
The 6-4, 217-pound Jesiolowski, a Southern Miss commitment, had 187 yards on 24 carries, including an 85-yard burst for a TD in the fourth quarter, and a 26-yard TD catch with 3 minutes to play. He went over the 1,000-yard mark Friday for the season and now has 1,152 rushing yards and 17 TDs. Jesiolowski was the star in Hartfield’s 31-28 win over MRA last season, running for a school-record 292 yards on 23 carries and three TDs, ending MRA’s streak of 19 consecutive wins against MAIS competition and a 26-game winning streak in regular season conference games. MRA had won 50 of its last 51 games against MAIS teams before Jesiolowski’s big game.
The 6-foot, 180-pound West caught seven passes for 105 yards and one TD, ran for a 44-yard TD, intercepted one pass, and broke up several other passes.
“I am so proud of this team,” said fourth-year Hartfield coach Craig Bowman, whose team took advantage of five MRA turnovers. “We knew it would be a heavyweight fight. MRA is such a good team. I am proud of the maturity and character of this group.
“Reed was huge tonight. He really showed his toughness for all four quarters. Bralan and Kenzy are so explosive. They can score at any moment from anywhere. Those three are great weapons to have on our offense.”
MRA has its share of offensive highlights as well. Senior quarterback and Southern Miss commit John White completed 24 of 38 passes for 365 yards and five TDs. Senior running back Charles Simpson – just 5-7 and 160 pounds – played big, with 165 yards on 28 carries and three TDs and caught 10 passes for 116 yards and two TDs. Sophomore wide receiver Case Thomas – son of former Clinton High and Alabama kicker Neal Thomas – had six catches for 158 yards and two TDs, his fifth 100-yard game this season.
MRA was without one of its best players against Hartfield. Junior defensive back-kick returner Matthew Perkins had leg surgery this week and is possibly out for the season. Perkins had two kickoff returns for TDs and was averaging 37.5 yards per return and had made 40 tackles.
“Two kick returns (for touchdowns) and five turnovers, two in the end zone, and poor performance on defense was too much to overcome,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “We played very hard. Our offensive line had a really good night.”