By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith and Brandon Jackson
Madison-Ridgeland Academy quarterback John White’s senior season didn’t get off to a great start, throwing an incompletion then an interception in his first two passes.
But White – who began his fifth season as a starting quarterback (eighth and ninth grade at Winona Christian and sophomore, junior and senior years at MRA) – used his experience, wisdom, and patience to bounce back and have a tremendous night.
The 6-foot, 204-pound Southern Miss commitment completed 18 of 27 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns and led MRA to a 48-25 victory over Parklane Academy Thursday night at Cowart Smith Stadium/Charlie Newlon Field in McComb in the season opener for both teams.
MAIS Class 6A MRA has now won 41 of last 48 games over the past four seasons and has a 50-3 record against MAIS teams in the same time span. The Patriots are trying to rebound from last year’s Class 6A state championship loss to Jackson Prep, which ended a three-year streak of winning the state title. MAIS Class 5A Parklane, which dropped down from the largest classification for the first time in several decades, could be one of the favorites to win the state championship in its new classification.
The leader of MRA’s success – head coach Herbert Davis – missed Thursday night’s win. Davis had been hospitalized this week with an infection and was released to go home Thursday afternoon. Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Danny White (no relation to John White) replaced Davis was head coach this week. Offensive line coach Kenny Williams and wide receiver coach John Weaver called the offensive plays in place of Davis, who doubles as offensive coordinator.
White’s accuracy and poise was a big key Thursday night. He completed TD passes to sophomore Case Thomas for 36 and 9 yards and sophomore Jack Polles for 38 yards.
“It is a huge advantage being a three-year starter,” said John White, who passed for a career high 515 yards against Prep as a sophomore. “I’ve seen everything a defense can do and know what’s coming most of the time. It definitely is an advantage going into my third year as the starter for MRA. I felt like we had a great night on the offensive side of the ball. We still have a lot of things to get better on. Our offensive line was dominant all night. The run game and protection were great all night. It’s always great to get that first win under our belt. The receivers and I were not on the same page on that first drive. We got right back in rhythm after that.”
White – who is on the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team for the second straight year – has a shot of becoming the career leader in passing yards in Mississippi history. He moved into fifth place after Thursday’s performance. White now has
White has 11,819 career passing yards, a MAIS record, including 7,419 at MRA and 4,400 yards at Winona Christian. Myles Brennan is the Mississippi record holder with 15,138 career yards at St. Stanislaus from 2013-16. White is behind Brennan, Ty Keyes from Taylorsville (14,525 from 2017-2020), Dylan Favre from St. Stanislaus (12,559 from 2007-2009) and Jack Abraham from Oxford (12,027 from 2012-2015). White passed Keon Howard from Laurel (11,532 from 2012-2015) Thursday night.
Whitecompleted 58 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards (highest in MAIS and fifth highest in Mississippi) and 28 TDs with eight interceptions last season as a junior. He completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,935 yards and 39 TDs and 14 interceptions and helped MRA to an 11-3 record and its third straight 6A state title as a sophomore two years ago.
White had plenty of help from junior running back Charles Simpson (a career high 178 yards on 20 carries and three TDs) and his offensive line, led by Madison Central transfer Joe Koury, a 6-1, 285-pound senior center, who was like White is a member of the Preseason Elite 11 Team. Koury, 6-foot, 225-pound senior left tackle Shane Sanderson, 6-2, 250-pound senior left guard Gauge Myers, 6-2, 275-pound freshman right guard Caleb Unger and 6-2, 230-pound junior right tackle Sebastian Griffin helped MRA produce 494 total yards.
Thomas caught five passes for 109 yards, Polles caught five passes for 89 yards and junior Jake McMillan caught two passes for 70 yards. Senior Max Zuluaga, a transfer from Madison Central and one of the top kickers-punters in Mississippi, kicked six extra points without a miss, had six kickoffs with two touchbacks and punted once for 42 yards.
“John threw for over 300 yards, offensive linemen did a great job protecting, wide receivers caught balls in crucial situations, moving the chains,” Danny White said. “Charles rushed for over 170 yards. He made some great runs as well getting the first down. Offense did a great job keeping us in the game.”
The defense came up with some big plays. Sophomore defensive back Gunnar Swanson, who had two interceptions in the first half, including a 65-yard return for a touchdown. Also, MRA stopped Parklane a few times from scoring in the second half. Sophomore defensive back Jack Ridgway had a team-high 10 tackles and two pass breakups.
“The defensive line did a good job disrupting the run game,” Danny White said. “They also set up some sacks getting opponent in third and long. The secondary needs to clean up coverage in those third down situations. Overall, it was a good win for the first game. It was a good start but need to keep improving. We missed our head coach. It was good to see kids step up and take responsibility, preparing for circumstances at hand.”
Parklane quarterbacks Henry Brewer and JD Dumas combined for 410 yards and four TDs. Brewer completed 19 of 34 passes for 294 yards and Dumas completed 7 of 12 passes for 116 yards. Senior wide receiver Brewer Carruth – one of the top basketball players in the MAIS – caught five passes for 92 yards and three TDs. Freshman wide receiver Davis Carruth caught six passes for 92 yards.