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Photos by Hays Collins and Robert Smith
Story by Robert Wilson

Hartfield Academy’s first football game against Jackson Prep in school history will be one to remember, especially the last few minutes.

Hartfield scored 15 points in the final 3 minutes, then stopped Prep a yard short of the goal line on the last play of the game for a 22-17, MAIS Class 6A victory at Prep.

After Prep senior Louie Gatlin kicked a field goal for a 17-7 Prep lead with 4 minutes to play, Hartfield senior quarterback Cruz Garner connected with senior wide receiver Dawson Pike for a 64-yard touchdown pass to pull Hartfield to 17-14. Then, Hartfield junior Gage Sorey recovered an onside kick and drove down to take the lead with senior running back Xavier Davis outracing several Prep defenders to the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard TD. Hartfield wide receiver Peyton Elliott completed a pass to Davis for the two-point conversion for a 22-17 lead. Prep drove down the field and junior quarterback Paxton Thompson completed a pass to junior wide receiver Will Upton just short of the end zone with 1 second to play. Thompson then handed off to running back Sam McMullan, but Hartfield’s Davis, Jay Smith, Tanner Welch, and Melvin Collins stopped him short of the goal line on the last play of the game. Hartfield, in its first year of Class 6A, improved to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play. Prep dropped to 6-4 and 2-2. It is the first time Prep has lost four games since 2004 and the first time to lose to four MAIS opponents since 1976.

“I’m proud of our kids and the character they showed tonight,” Hartfield coach Craig Bowman said. “Being down 10 points late in the fourth quarter at Jackson Prep is hard to overcome. Our defense made two huge goal line stops. And our offense made some big plays. I’m happy for our seniors, our coaching staff and our community.”

Prep was hoping to win its second straight Class 6A game over a rival. Prep defeated Jackson Academy 10-6 last week. Prep first-year coach Tyler Turner replaced former National High School Football Coach of the Year and Mississippi Hall of Fame member Ricky Black. Black, the second winningest coach in Mississippi history, surprisingly resigned in February. Prep hasn’t won a state title since 2018 and missed the state championship game last season for the first time since 2010.

“Hats off to Hartfield. They played a good ball game and made some plays in critical situations that won them the game,” Turner said. “Some things didn’t go our way tonight, but our guys fought until the final whistle. I am proud of them for that. We are still disappointed, but we have to bounce back and get ready for another good football team next week. I think everyone involved in our program will be ready to get back to work this week.”

Thompson completed 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards and two TDs to lead Prep. Upton, who set a school record for receptions in a season last week, had senior wide receiver Luke Williams had five catches each.