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By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd

       Jackson Academy coach Aubrey Blackwell’s first season coaching in Mississippi last year started off with a four-game winning streak. Blackwell’s season ended losing four of his last nine games, including a loss to Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the MAIS Class 6A state semifinals, the ninth consecutive year the Raiders have failed to reach the championship game.

       Blackwell hopes his second year has a better ending.

       JA got off to a solid start with a 27-8 victory over MAIS Class 5A Bayou Academy Friday night in the season opener for both teams before an estimated 4,000 fans at Raider Field in Northeast Jackson.

       The strength of JA’s team is its defense, featuring three players with Division I offers – junior defensive back DJ Watkins, 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore lineman Dereon Albert and junior linebacker AJ Parker – and it showed in the opener. Bayou got inside the JA 40 on only three drives in the game and didn’t score a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. JA’s defense caused three turnovers, fumble recoveries by senior linebacker Maddox Greer and junior linebacker Jacob Scarborough and an interception by senior defensive back CJ Banks, which he returned for an 85-yard touchdown.

       Blackwell 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.

       “Defensively, we played like I expected,” Blackwell said. “Offensively, we need to get better in a hurry. Our pass protections hurt us along with three turnovers.”

       Junior running back Omarean Ellis gave JA a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run with 10 minutes, 48 seconds to play in the second quarter. Sophomore quarterback Carter Mathison completed a 21-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver and Arkansas State commit Kiandre Terry for a 14-0 lead with 4:46 to play before halftime. Mathison completed 13 of 20 passes for 154 yards and one TD. Terry caught six passes for 98 yards and one TD.

       Bayou cut the lead to 14-2 with 8:42 to play in third quarter when senior defensive lineman Brandon Parker made a tackle in the end zone for a safety.

Watkins – who has Division I offers from Louisiana-Monroe, Austin Peay, Liberty, Kent State, and Texas A&M-Commerce – also plays offense and scored on a 26-yard run for a 20-2 lead. Bayou cut the lead to 20-8 when senior running back Aslan Buckner scored on a 2-yard run with 8:04 to play in the third quarter.

Banks’ interception return pushed the lead to 27-8 in the final minutes.

       “We played hard for the most part,” said Bayou coach Flip Godfrey, who is in his fourth season at Bayou and his 33rd season overall, seven at North Sunflower, 13 at Canton Academy and nine at Madison St. Joseph. Godfrey won two state championships at Canton Academy. “We had a lot of first game mistakes. We have got to get better each week. We think our mistakes are correctable. We have got to get better in the red zone and had way too many missed assignments on defense.”

       “I’m thankful for the way our community came out and supported us,” Blackwell said. “It was an electric atmosphere. It was a great game to watch two schools full of young men who played the game as hard as they possibly could have. We have lots of areas to work on and will start the second part of this climb on Sunday.”