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By Robert Wilson
Photos by Scott Boyd
Greenville Christian, ranked No. 58 in the nation by MaxPreps, continued to stake its claim as the best team in Mississippi as the Saints became only in the second team in 21 years to defeat MAIS traditional Class 6A powers Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Jackson Prep and now Jackson Academy in the same season.
Greenville Christian, which defeated MHSAA Class 6A defending state champion Oak Grove two weeks, jumped out to a 27-point halftime lead and defeated JA 30-9 Friday night at JA.
Defending MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian improved to 7-1 and won its 18th consecutive game against Mississippi competition. The Saints’ only loss is to 2020 Georgia public school Class 7A runner-up Collins Hill, ranked No. 7 in the nation, in the Freedom Bowl in Atlanta. Greenville Christian defeated two defending champions, Oak Grove 48-41, and two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion MRA 58-32 in the season opener, both on the road. The only other team to defeat MRA, Prep and JA in the same season since 1999 is Presbyterian Christian in 2016.
2020 MAIS Class 6A runner-up JA, playing without star running back Marcus Harris (ankle injury), dropped to 4-2.
Greenville Christian senior quarterback D.J. Smith completed 22 of 32 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns, most of those yards and all three TDs in the first half. Smith also ran for 66 yards on 14 carries. Smith completed a 27-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commit Chris Bell on the first drive of the game. Bell went up and made a great catch between two JA defenders in the end zone for the TD. Smith added the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead with 10:16 in the first quarter. Smith connected with senior running back Marlon Palmer for an 11-yard TD for a 14-0 lead with 11:42 to go in the second quarter. JA senior kicker Scott Swalley kicked a 29-yard field goal before Palmer scored on a 5-yard run for a 20-3 lead. Greenville Christian added a safety and Smith hit Bell for a 20-yard TD with 9 seconds to go before half for a 30-3 lead. Bell caught seven passes for 90 yards and two TDs and Palmer ran 14 times for 77 yards and one TD and caught four passes for 34 yards and one TD.
“I thought we really played well in the first half,” Greenville Christian coach Jon Reed McLendon said. “D.J. made some big time plays in the face of some pressure. It was impressive how he was able to stay up and get the ball out and make something happen out of nothing. Chris and Marlon were good again. I thought defensively we were tough. We gave up some things here and there but got stops when we needed to.”
JA senior quarterback Tate Collins completed a 39-yard TD to senior wide receiver Dakota Jordan with 3:21 to go in the game for JA’s only TD. Jordan made a juggling grab around the 10-yard line and ran into the end zone for the score. Collins completed 10 of 16 passes for 135 yards and one TD. Jordan, a Mississippi State football and baseball commit, caught five passes for 88 yards and one TD.
Greenville Christian senior linebacker J.D. Stewart, a Southern Miss commit, had a team-high seven tackles and senior Daishun Scott had six. JA senior defensive back Kris Robinson had a team-high nine tackles and senior defensive back Porter Harrell and senior defensive back Trey Adams had six each.
Second-year JA head coach Lance Pogue knows all about nationally ranked teams. He coached several at South Panola. In fact, in 2010, Pogue’s South Panola team finished No. 1 in the nation in the USA Today Super 25 poll. The Tigers went 15-0, won the Class 5A state title and defeated national powers Memphis University School and Colquitt County, Ga., along the way. In Pogue’s second season at South Panola in 2008, Meridian ended South Panola’s nation-best 89-game winning streak with a 26-20 overtime victory for the 5A state title, ending South Panola’s five-year string of state championships.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a group of kids,” Pogue said. “Our kids fought. We’ve got guts. We’ve got heart. Greenville Christian is a great football team. They’ve wiped out the state of Mississippi and we played them tough. They are the 50th best team in the country. We could have come out in the second half and melted, but we didn’t. We’ve got something to build on. We didn’t have this kind of heart and guts a few years ago. We are turning the tide. We are trying to get this program to get to the level to win a championship.”