Long time sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing a predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties. Robert went 16-5 last week (76.1 percent) and is 77-22 (77.7 percent) for the season.
Jackson Academy (4-2) at Jackson Prep (4-1)
Prep has owned this series since JA won three state championships from 2009-2011. The Patriots have won the last 11 meetings and last year’s 28-17 victory was the closest game since a 24-19 regular season victory in 2014.
It has been a miserable ride for the Raiders, especially since these students come from the same towns, same neighborhoods, same churches and in a few cases, the same families. Prep holds a 39-14 lead in the series. The first win over Prep was an emotional one that many JA fans still remember. In 1995, after coach Sherard Shaw lost his battle with cancer, the Raiders upset the Patriots 21-7 on their way to their first state title. JA has won eight more state titles since then, but none since 2011.
This JA-Prep meeting features several new situations, especially on the JA side. Lance Pogue, one of the most successful high school football coaches in Mississippi history, was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach at JA, replacing Larry Weems, who finished 0-7 against Prep. Pogue won a national championship and five state titles in 10 seasons at South Panola. This is Pogue’s fourth year at JA. The Raiders have added three new players, all Division I recruits, who have dramatically increased JA’s talent level. The biggest name is senior wide receiver Deion Smith, the No. 1 recruit in Mississippi and the No. 7 wide receiver in the country by 247 Sports, transferred to JA from Provine after Jackson Public Schools cancelled its football season. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Smith, who has verbally committed to defending national champion LSU, is one of two Mississippians (Southaven High wide receiver Isaiah Brevard is the other) invited to play in the Under Armour All-American game in January. Smith, along with his younger brother, Dan, one of the top sophomore wide receivers in Mississippi who also transferred from Provine, have averaged a combined 24 yards every time they have carried or caught the ball this season. Deion has caught 13 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns and ran three times for 106 yards in four games. Dan, who was offered by LSU two weeks ago after the Oak Forest, La., game, has caught seven passes for 153 yards and two TDs and ran once for 32 yards in four games.
In addition, senior Lardarius Webb Jr., son of former Super Bowl champion and nine-year Baltimore Raven defensive back Lardarius Webb Sr., transferred to JA from Opelika, Ala., to the Metro Jackson area to live with his father his senior season. Webb is a Nebraska commit and ranked No. 25 in Mississippi by 247 Sports. Webb, who plays defensive back, wide receiver and returns kicks and punts, has nine combined returns for 198 yards, 22 yards per return.
JA junior running back Marcus Harris has gained 545 yards on 91 carries and 12 TDs. JA senior Jackson Conn and sophomore Clayton White have both played quarterback and have the ability to get the ball into the playmaker’s hands.
At Prep, it all starts with coach Ricky Black, the second winningest coach in Mississippi history with 397 wins. Prep has won 259 games and 13 state titles since he arrived at Prep in 1997. The Patriots won seven straight titles before Madison-Ridgeland Academy ended their streak last season in the championship game.
Many of those Patriots are back this season and have the makings of another state title run. Seniors like running back Matt Jones, quarterback Riley Maddox, linebacker-fullback Braedon Mabry, wide receiver-defensive back Thaxton Burch and wide receiver-defensive back Jeffrey Ince have led the Patriots to a 4-1 record. Jones has gained 535 yards and nine TDs and is averaging 132.2 yards per game. Maddox has thrown four TD passes, Mabry is known as one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the MAIS, Burch has a team-high 11 catches and Ince, a JA transfer, has a team-high three interceptions, including one for a TD. In addition, Prep has two JPS transfers, one of them was a teammate of the Smith brothers at Provine. Tight end-defensive end Kendarius Smith transferred from Provine and linebacker-running back Chris Peals transferred from Lanier. They have contributed both offensively and defensively this season.
This game will probably be closer than even last year’s game, which Prep led 21-17 going into the fourth quarter. JA’s defense has gotten better each week, but can it slow down Jones? Taylorsville produced more than 500 yards in a 47-37 victory over Prep last week. Can the Smith brothers and Harris produce enough yards and points to break JA’s long losing streak against Prep? Who will win this first meeting between Pogue and Black, two of the most successful coaches in Mississippi history? Black and defensive coordinator Nick Brewer have stopped plenty of Division I recruits in their years at Prep. But can they do their magic against the Smith brothers?
Prep’s winning streak ends at 11 and Pogue goes 1-0 vs. Black. JA’s talented junior kicker Scott Swalley kicks a field goal for the difference.
JA 31, Prep 28.
Starkville (4-0) at Germantown (3-1)
This is Germantown’s 10th year as a school and athletic director and head football coach Tim Shramek has done a wonderful job of building the football program. The Mavericks started in 2011 as a Class 4A school, spent two years in 4A, then six years in 5A and last year was the first in 6A. Moving up a class in difficult to do in football and usually a team will suffer growing pains the first few years. Germantown did as well. The Mavs were 3-7 their first as a school in 4A then 6-4. They went 7-4 overall, but were 3-4 in district play in their first year in 5A. Germantown then went 6-1 in district play for the next five seasons and had winning overall records each year, including winning a school record 10 games in 2014. The jump from 5A to 6A may be the most difficult of all and it showed last year as the Mavs went 2-5 in district play and 5-6 overall.
Germantown has yet to get a signature win in 6A, but there aren’t many teams who can beat the traditional 6A powerhouses like South Panola, Starkville and Madison Central. The Mavs played one of the top teams in the state, Warren Central, a close game last week. It was tied at 7-7 at a halftime and Warren Central only led 14-10 after three quarters before winning 23-10.
Shramek’s group this year is talented. Warren Central found that out last week. Shramek has been around some great teams. He and his offensive coordinator Steve Metz were at Clinton for seven years and Madison Central for nine years before coming to Germantown. Shramek is one of the best defensive coaches around and has handed off his defensive duties to former Clinton head coach Steve Brown. Junior defensive lineman Zxavian Harris (6-6, 308) is one of the top defensive players in Mississippi and Shramek said he has gotten Division I offers from schools in the SEC, Big 10 and many others. Starkville needs to know where No. 51 is at all times. His linebacker group is rugged too, reminding Shramek of the outstanding linebackers he coached at Clinton and Madison Central. Junior John Lewis had 14 tackles and senior Austin Ghoston had 13 tackles last week against Warren Central.
Junior running back Branson Robinson, who is also getting serious Division I looks, had 111 yards and one TD against Warren Central.
Even though Shramek feels like he has a very good team, he compares playing in this 6A region like the SEC West, a tough assignment every Friday night. This week is no different. Many consider Starkville the favorite to win the 6A state championship. The Yellow Jackets are led by senior quarterback Luke Altmyer, a Florida State commitment who is rated as the No. 3 player in Mississippi and the No. 13 pro-style quarterback in the nation by 247 Sports.
Starkville and Altmyer jumped out to a 27-0 lead in the first quarter and defeated Germantown 27-0 last season in Starkville.
This is the time for Germantown to make a 6A statement. Watch for the Mavs to make a big play in the fourth quarter to pull off the upset.
Germantown 17, Starkville 14.
Other games: (Winner in Bold)
Brandon (3-2) at George County (0-3)
Canton Academy (4-2) at Greenville Christian (4-1)
Cathedral (5-1) at Clinton Christian (0-5)
Central Holmes (1-5) at Hillcrest (1-6)
Cleveland Central (2-2) at Ridgeland (3-1)
East Rankin (1-5) at Hartfield (5-3)
Enterprise-Clarke (3-0) at Pelahatchie (1-3)
Holmes County Central (1-2) at Canton (1-2)
MRA (5-0) at Parklane (3-1)
Madison St. Joseph (2-2) at McAdams (1-3)
Northwest Rankin (3-1) at Terry (1-3)
Pearl (1-3) at Meridian (0-4)
Pisgah (2-2) at Lake (2-2)
Puckett (4-0) at Mize (1-1)
Quitman (0-1) at Florence (2-2)
Raymond (2-2) at Lawrence County (2-2)
Rebul (0-6) at Union Christian, La. (0-6)
Richland (4-0) at Northeast Jones (0-2)
St. Andrew’s (0-4) at McLaurin (0-4)
South Panola (3-1) at Clinton (1-2)
Tri-County (3-2) at Central Hinds (0-6)
Winona (4-0) at Madison Central (3-1)
Yazoo County (1-2) at Velma Jackson (2-0)