Photo by Brandon Jackson

Sponsored by:
The Tire Depot
Jackson Prep Sports
The Rogue
Mccraney Montagnet Quin & Noble PLLC
4Top Hospitality
JA Raider Sports
Stubblefield, Yelverton, Van Uden, PLLC
Harrigill Real Estate,LLC

By Robert Wilson

       Nick Brewer has been coaching at Jackson Prep since 1999, the longest tenure of anyone on the football staff, and he has been the defensive coordinator for the majority of those years.

       Brewer knows how to keep opposing teams from scoring and he showed another example of his expertise Friday night against Prep’s biggest rival, Jackson Academy.

       Brewer’s defense limited JA to zero points and 111 total yards for the first three and half quarters and the defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Patriots fought off a JA comeback for a 17-10 victory in both team’s conference opener before an estimated 3,500 at the Brickyard at Raider Field in Northeast Jackson.

       This is one of the most intense and unique rivalries in Mississippi with many families with kids going to both schools and players from both teams living in the same neighborhood and members of the same churches who are great friends off the field.

       Prep improved to 4-0 and won its 10th straight game dating back the middle of last year’s regular season. It is the longest winning streak for Prep since a 26-game streak from 2016-2018 during the final three years of Prep’s Mississippi record seven-year string of consecutive state championships.

JA dropped to 4-1. Prep has now defeated JA 14 of the last 15 meetings. JA’s only win during that string was in 2020 when JA scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to defeat Prep 28-21 in the Class 6A state semifinals in former National Coach of the Year and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Ricky Black’s last game at Prep. JA is trying to win its first state title since David Sykes led the Raiders to three consecutive state title from 2009-2011. JA has been to one state title game since 2013, losing to Madison-Ridgeland Academy in 2020.

Sophomore kicker Eli Adams made a 20-yard field goal, junior quarterback Parker Puckett ran for one touchdown and passed for one TD (to junior Major Quin) – Puckett completed 14 of 25 passes for 217 yards and ran eight times for 28 yards – to give Prep a 17-0 lead with 6 minutes to play.

JA put on dramatic comeback, driving 80 yards – the big play a 38-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Carter Mathison to senior wide receiver Bo Barbour to the Prep 29 – for its first score on a 2-yard shuffle pass to junior DJ Watkins to junior AJ Parker with 3:11 to play. JA recovered an onside kick and drove down for a 32-yard field goal by junior Jacob Scarbrough to cut the lead to 17-10 with 2:17 to play. Then, JA held Prep on downs and got the ball back at the Prep 48 with 1 minute to play, but three incomplete passes and a fumble ended JA’s chances with 32 seconds to play and Prep ran out the clock.

JA junior running back Omerean Ellis came into Friday as MAIS Class 6A’s most productive runner with 44 carries for 522 yards (an average of 11.8 yards per carry) and seven TDs. But Prep’s defense slowed down Ellis and he finished with only 17 yards on nine carries in the first half and was out with an injury in the second half. Prep had an outstanding performance even without talented junior linebacker Tre Bryant, the son of former NFL kicker Matt Bryant and a transfer from Orange Beach High. Bryant had shoulder surgery this week, but Prep baseball fans take heart, he should be back by baseball season (Bryant, a third baseman, hit .448 and helped Prep to its sixth straight state title last spring as a sophomore).

JA had averaged 44.3 points in wins over Class 5A Leake Academy, Pillow Academy and Silliman, La., over the past three weeks.

“I thought (senior defensive lineman) Andy Brown, (senior linebacker) Thomas Cross, (junior defensive back) Micah Stallworth, (junior defensive back) Major Quin and others played well,” second-year Prep coach Doug Goodwin said. “We did a great job on Ellis.”

“We played hard, gave good effort and did enough to win the game,” said Brewer, who has been a part of 13 state championships at Prep. “Our front three (seniors Andy Brown and Thomas Gough and junior Stewart Grubbs) played well.”

JA’s defense – with four players with Division I offers (led by 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore defensive tackle Dereon Albert, offers by two-time defending national champion Georgia and others) – held Prep without a touchdown and 115 total yards in the first half. But JA couldn’t generate enough offense until late in the game to make a run at Prep.

“It was proud that our kids found a way to continue to fight and never quit,” second-year JA coach Aubrey Blackwell said. “We had some injuries in this game and I’m proud of the guys that came in and stepped up. I told our boys to keep their head up. We play this game to learn about life and what it means to be a man. They proved that no matter what life throws at them, they’re willing to fight till the end and battle for their team. We will build off this game and will get better next week.”