By Robert Wilson
Photography by Hays Collins

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There were probably many players and coaches who deserved game balls in Jackson Prep’s 10-6 victory over rival Jackson Academy Friday night, but another one needs to go to trainer Brian Anderson.

​Two of biggest stars of Prep’s win – senior wide receiver Luke Williams and senior linebacker William Deas – had missed several games earlier this season because of injuries.

​Williams, who missed several games after suffered an ankle injury that required surgery, caught the game-winning, 18-yardpass from junior quarterback Paxton Thompson with 4 minutes, 4seconds to play. Williams jumped high in the air and outwrestled JA defensive back Porter Harrell for the ball as the two fell to the turf and it was ruled a touchdown. Williams finished with six catches for 67 yards. He also played cornerback on defense. 
​Deas, who missed several games with a shoulder injury, had a huge game with 17 tackles in his first game back to lead the Prep defense, which kept JA out of the end zone and limited the Raiders to 10 first downs and only 156 total yards.

​Friday night’s win was first-year Prep coach Tyler Turner’s biggest in his short career as Patriots coach. JA had ended Prep’s season last year with a come-from-behind, 28-21 victory in the MAIS Class 6A semifinals, the first time Prep wasn’t in the championship game since 2010. JA broke a 12-game losing streak to Prep and had not beaten Prep since the 2013 regular season. It was the last game former National Coach of the Year and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Ricky Black would coach at Prep. Black, the second winningest coach in Mississippi history, surprisingly resigned in February. Black had a 263-44 record (an 85.6 winning percentage) and 13 state titles, including seven straight from 2012-2018, in 24 seasons at Prep.

​Prep hired 35-year-old Turner from Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville. Turner had a 67-15 record in six seasons at head coach before coming to Prep.

​Turner and Prep, which lost the majority of its starters to graduation, have had its struggles this season, losing to nationally ranked Greenville Christian, Heritage Academy and two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion MRA. That’s not up to standards at Prep, the longtime king of MAIS football. 

​But Prep, staring at its fourth loss of the season for the first time since 2004, surprised JA and gave Turner a signature victory.

​“I’m so proud of our guys and how they competed tonight,” Turner said. “Our defense played their hearts out and made big time plays in critical situations. Usually, one position of the defense stands out on performance, but this game the whole defense performed at a very high level. Luke makes an amazing catch on the wheel route in the end zone to put us ahead. Nobody gave our guys a chance and they found a way to win against a very good football team. I can’t be happier for our team.”

​Prep improved to 6-3 and JA dropped to 5-3.

​Prep’s Louis Gatlin kicked a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter for the only points of the first half. JA’s Scott Swalleykicked field goals of 28 yards in the third quarter, then 38 yards for a 6-3 JA lead with 11:47 to play in the game. It looked like it might go down to another field goal try before Williams made his big play. On second-and-goal from the JA 18, Thompson lofted a high spiral and Williams and Harrell went up for it.

​“Someone needed to make a play so we could go ahead,” Williams said. “Sure enough, Coach Turner called up a wheel route to me on that play. As I was turning up into the end zone on the wheel, I knew I had to go up and get it because the safety (Harrell) covered it well. Paxton gave me a chance and I ended up coming down with it. We went on to stop them and win the game.” 

​The win was big for Deas, especially after what happened last year when JA ended Prep’s season.

​“It was a revenge game for us with them taking us out of the playoffs last year,” Deas said. “We’ve a season full of ups and downs, but we wanted to show that when we are at our best, we are a very good football team. It was important to us to make a statement tonight. We know JA had three very explosive players in Marcus Harris, Dakota Jordan, and Tate Collins. We knew if we could slow them down and disrupt their connection, then we would have a great shot at winning the game. I felt like our entire defense from the line to defensive backs and especially the linebackers played very well and made plays when they were needed.”

​“We had a great week of practice and our guys were focused all week,” Prep defensive coordinator Nick Brewer said. “They were focused on the bus ride over to the game. And they kept that same focus during the entire game. It was probably the best we had run after the ball all season. Our guys got after it on defense. We didn’t give up the big play. I knew if we didn’t do that, we could be in the game.”

​Thompson completed 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and the one TD to Williams. JA was led on offense by senior quarterback Tate Collins with 54 rushing yards and senior running back Marcus Harris with 53 rushing yards. Collins and backup Clayton White alternated at quarterback and combined for only 33 passing yards. 

​JA second-year coach Lance Pogue, who won a national title and five MHSAA state titles in 10 seasons at South Panola High, took JA to the state championship game for the first time since 2013 in his first year as head coach last season. Pogue was defensive coordinator for three seasons before replacing Larry Weems as head coach.

​JA senior wide receiver and Mississippi State football and baseball commitment Dakota Jordan never couldn’t get going. He had only two catches for 21 yards. Jordan, a transfer from Canton Academy, is rated as the 16th top recruit in Mississippi and third top recruit in the MAIS by 247 Sports.