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Photos by Chris Todd
Story by Robert Wilson
Madison-Ridgeland Academy coach Herbert Davis played a rough early season schedule – the most difficult in Mississippi, according to MaxPreps – to prepare for MAIS conference play to try to win his third consecutive state championship.
If Friday night was any indication, the Patriots look ready to defend their state title.
MRA scored 28 points in the second half to run away from Jackson Academy 35-7 in the MAIS Class 6A opener for both teams at Madison.
MRA sophomore quarterback John White completed 22 of 33 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns, all to senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commitment Davis Dalton, and MRA’s defense, led by Under Armour American senior linebacker Stone Blanton, held JA’s offense in check for the victory.
MRA improved to 3-3 and won its second game in a row. The Patriots lost to three defending state champions – MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian, Tennessee Class 6A public school state champion Oakland and Arkansas Class 5A state champion Pulanski Academy. Greenville Christian defeated defending MHSAA Class 6A state champion Oak Grove Friday and played Collins Hill, Ga., High – ranked No. 7 in the country by MaxPreps – even for three quarters in the Freedom Bowl in Atlanta two weeks ago. Oakland is ranked No. 13 in the nation by High School America. Pulaski has won their classification for the past two seasons and has averaged 53 points per game over the past two seasons.
“Playing this tough schedule helped us become a better football field,” Davis said. “Each game taught us something and we learned from it. We didn’t win, but we were able to score some points each game. I thought I knew where we were as a team, but I really wasn’t sure until tonight. Tonight was a real test. I was very proud of our defense. (Senior Braedan) Watters and (Alex) Hillhouse played well and our young secondary. (Senior) Cam (Covey) played a great game, defensively and on special teams, blocking a field goal (a 38-yard field goal attempt by JA”s Scott Swalley in the second quarter) and played well on our kickoff team.”
JA, which dropped to 4-1, was slowed down when its star running back, senior Marcus Harris, left the game late in the first quarter with an ankle injury, Harris had only eight yards on four carries before his injury. He gained 1,537 yards and scored 24 TDs last season and had gained 289 yards and scored six TDs this season before Friday. Another one of their star players – senior wide receiver and Mississippi State commit Dakota Jordan didn’t play much in the second half because of leg cramps. Jordan caught two passes for 28 yards and lost eight yards on three carries before leaving with cramps. JA had only 213 total yards, just 56 in the second half. It was the least number of points scored by JA since a 48-7 loss to MRA in 2019.
“Losing Marcus and Dakota limited us offensively,” JA coach Lance Pogue said. “Give MRA credit. They took it to us. We fought hard, but our defense got wore down.”
Meanwhile, MRA’s offense got moving in the second half. Dalton caught a 58-yard TD pass from White for a 14-7 lead with 5 minutes, 23 seconds in the third quarter. Then, Dalton caught another TD from White, this one for 38 yards, for a 21-7 lead with 1:10 in the third quarter. White found Dalton for a 29-yard TD for a 28-7 lead with 11:02 to play in the game. Freshman running back Quincy Phillips added an 89-yard run for the game’s final score.
Davis caught eight passes for 177 yards. Senior wide receiver Street Toler caught five passes for 56 yards.
The game matched two of the top coaches in Mississippi who came into the game with a combined 445 career victories and 10 state championships. Davis won his fifth state title last season and has won 212 games now in his 25th season. He is the only football coach in Mississippi history to take five different schools (MRA, Brookhaven Academy, Pillow, Heritage and Winston) to state championship games. Pogue, in his second season as JA’s head coach, won five state titles and one national title in 10 seasons at South Panola High and has coached in eight state championship games, six South Panola and one each at JA and Eupora. Pogue has won 224 games in his 24th season. Pogue led JA to its first state championship game since 2013 last season
MRA DEFEATS JA 35-7, BENEFITS FROM PLAYING MOST DIFFICULT EARLY SEASON IN MISSISSIPPI