Photo by Brad Bridges

By Robert Wilson

Alabama native and former Alabama high school football coach Aubrey Blackwell is still undefeated as a high school coach in Mississippi.

The first-year JA coach won his fourth consecutive game with a 36-12 victory over Madison St. Joseph Friday night at Bill Raphael Field in Madison.

MAIS Class 6A JA improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2018. MAIS Class 5A St. Joe dropped to 2-2.

This was the fourth meeting between the two schools in football. JA has dominated St. Joe in each of the previous three meetings, 35-14 last season, 47-7 in 2018 and 31-14 in 2017.

Blackwell led his Raiders to three close wins over Class 5A Starkville 17-14 in overtime, Class 5A Leake 10-6 and Class 4A Winston 20-17 in overtime, but this one wasn’t as close. JA led 14-6 at halftime and St. Joe never got closer.

Blackwell, who took over for Lance Pogue (now at Heritage), came to JA from Alabama where he had a 57-26 record in seven seasons as a head coach, six at Montgomery Catholic and one at Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City.

JA scored 14 points in the second quarter for a 14-6 lead at halftime. Senior Merritt Nations scored on a 5-yard run and senior quarterback Clayton White completed a 25-yard TD pass to junior Kiandre Terry, who enrolled last week after transferring from Terry High. After an hour and half lightning delay during halftime, the Raiders started the second half with a scoring drive to take a 22-6 lead on junior Colby Archie’s 15-yard run. JA scored 14 points more points in the fourth quarter. White completed a 22-yard TD pass to junior Bo Barbour and Nations ran for 42-yard TD to finish the JA scoring.

“I was really proud of our guys for handling the weather and conditions and finding a way to compete and stay focused throughout,” Blackwell said. “Our offense found some sync and are getting better every week. Our defense continued to play well in the box against a talented team tonight.”

JA’s defense and the sloppy conditions limited St. Joe’s Emile Picarella – the No. 1 rated sophomore quarterback in Mississippi and No. 7 in the country by – from being successful Friday night. Picarella, who faced constant pressure from the JA defensive front, completed his only TD pass when he found senior Carter Walker for a 25-yard score with 4 minutes to play.

Picarella had completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 570 yards and four TDs going into Friday night. He has offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Akron (Ohio). 

St. Joe senior running back Million Kelly – a transfer from MHSAA Class 6A Forest Hill High – scored on a 3-yard run to give the Bruins a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. It would be the only St. Joe lead in the game. Kelly had a team-high 482 all-purpose yards (239 receiving, 158 rushing, 63 punt return and 22 kickoff return) and five TDs before Friday night this season.

First-year St. Joe head coach Jason Moore, who coached for 25 years as an assistant at MHSAA schools Brandon, Florence, Puckett, Pelahatchie, and Forest before coming to St. Joe as an assistant four years ago, had his Bruins on a two-game winning streak, and are coming off an impressive 50-7 win over East Rankin Academy. St. Joe hasn’t had a winning season since 2017 and has had only two winning seasons in the past eight seasons. The Bruins have 12 returning starters, increased its roster by 14 players up to 42 and added five transfers.

“Our guys played hard,” Moore said. “The elements had an effect (on the game).”

“I am proud of how our boys have found ways all season to overcome adversity and pull together as one,” Blackwell said. “We entered this season wanting to get better every week and have great effort. Our boys have met that challenge and been successful reaching the goals of the first part of the season.”

JA has its first Class 6A of the season next week when they play host to three-time defending state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy.