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Photos by Chris Todd
Story by Robert Wilson

Madison-Ridgeland Academy will go for its third consecutive MAIS Class 6A state football championship next week.

The Patriots used a big play at the end of the first half and converted four Jackson Academy turnovers into 28 second-half points for a 52-14 victory Friday night in the MAIS Class 6A semifinals at MRA to get there.

MRA, 10-3, meets Hartfield, 9-2, for the state title Saturday at 6 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton. MRA defeated Hartfield 45-23 two weeks in the last regular season game at MRA. MRA has won nine consecutive games since its difficult opening schedule of playing state champions from Mississippi (MAIS Class 3A and nationally ranked Greenville Christian), Tennessee (Class 6A and nationally ranked Oakland) and Arkansas (Class 2A Pulaski Academy). JA, which lost to MRA 35-7 during the regular season, finished 8-4 and was denied its second straight state championship appearance. MRA defeated JA 41-14 in last year’s state title game.

MRA, which has won 40 of its last 41 games against MAIS competition, and 29 of its last 32 games and 46 of its last 52overall, was about to go into halftime with only a 17-14 lead Friday night before Davis Dalton made a big play like he has all season. Dalton, a senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commit, ran past a JA defensive back, caught a John White pass at about the JA 30, and raced to the end zone to complete a 74-yard TD with 37 seconds to play. Dalton, who had tweaked his legearlier in the quarter, caught eight passes for 150 yards, including a 13-yard TD pass from White for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Dalton went high between two JA defenders to complete a 41-yard pass play down to the JA 16 a few plays earlier. Dalton now has 80 catches for 1,474 and 15 TDs this season.

“That catch and TD by Davis was very big,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “It was great to go into halftime with some momentum and up 24-14.”

JA was driving and was about to close to gap to 24-21 early in the third quarter, but a fumble ended the drive at MRA 1. That was the first of many turnovers by the Raiders that turned into every score for MRA in the second half. MRA junior Braeden Watters blocked a JA punt and the Patriots turned it into a 15-yard TD run by senior J.J. Latham for a 31-14 lead with 1:49 to play in the third quarter. A JA fumble recovered by junior Jeff Polk turned into a 20-yard TD pass from White to senior Tylor Latham for a 38-14 lead. Another JA fumble on the kickoff turned into a 14-yard TD run by freshman Quincy Phillips. And Noah Short completed the turnovers with a 26-yard interception return for a score and a 52-14 lead with 6 minutes to play.

“JA is a well-coached team with great players, and we knew we needed to get the ball back if we were going to dominate,” MRA Under Armour All-American and senior linebacker Stone Blanton said. “At halftime, we emphasized getting the ball back and in the second half we came out firing.” 

Blanton and his defensive teammates not only caused four turnovers, but they limited JA to only 137 total yards and, more importantly, zero points in the second half. And the Raiders’ offense came in dominating in its last two wins, with 54 points and 678 yards against Parklane and 40 points and 531 yards against Presbyterian Christian. JA’s only scores came on a 75-yard pass from senior quarterback Tate Collins to senior wide receiver and Mississippi State commitment Dakota Jordan and a 73-yard pass from Jordan to junior Merritt Nations, both in the first half. Collins passed for 183 yards and ran for 25 yards. Jordan caught five passes for 118 yards and threw for 73 yards.

Blanton, Polk, Watters, junior linebacker Bennett Cloud, senior nose guard Will Hornback, and junior defensive end Alex Hillhouse were solid up front for the Patriots. MRA had allowedonly 9.4 points per game during its winning streak before Friday and had allowed just 168 yards or fewer in the last four games.

White, a sophomore, completed 20 of 33 passes for 260 yards and three TDs. He now has passed for a Mississippi-best 3,662 yards and 37 TDs this season.

“Our kids played hard, but all those breaks that MRA got in the second half – and give them credit they created them – we needed to win this game,” JA coach Lance Pogue said. “We were right in it before MRA hit that bomb on us right before halftime. Then we drove down the field to start the third quarter and was about to make it 24-21 and fumbled close to the goal line. MRA capitalized on our mistakes and things got unraveled. It’s a shame, but to MRA’s credit they made the plays.”