Long time sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties. Robert had a 8-4 record (66.7 percent) last week and has a 247-64 (79.4 percent) this season.

By Robert Wilson

         Hartfield (9-2) vs. MRA (10-3), Saturday, 6:15 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton

         Madison-Ridgeland Academy will attempt to secure its hold of being the most dominating MAIS team in the highest classification when the Patriots go for their third consecutive Class 6A state championship.

         And if MRA plays like it has the last nine games, the Patriots should secure another trophy to take back to Madison. Since losing to three defending state champions – from Mississippi (MAIS Class 3A and nationally ranked Greenville Christian), Tennessee (Public school Class 6A and nationally ranked Oakland) and Arkansas (Class 2A Pulanski Academy) – MRA hasn’t come close to losing. In fact, the closest final score was against Hartfield, a 45-23 decision two weeks ago in the final regular season game. And that one really wasn’t too close. MRA led 31-9 at halftime and 45-9 late in the third quarter.

         MRA has been dominating in the MAIS over the past several years, winning 40 of its last 41 games against MAIS competition. Its only loss during that streak was this year’s season opener against Greenville Christian, which is ranked No. 60 in the nation by MaxPreps, and MRA played that game without several starters, including Under Armour All-American and senior linebacker Stone Blanton.

         MRA’s offense is led by senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commitment Davis Dalton (a MAIS-best 80 catches for 1,474 yards and 15 TDs), three-year starter and senior offensive lineman Rush Bland and sophomore quarterback John White (a Mississippi-best 3,662 passing yards and 37 TDs). Blanton has plenty of help on defense, such as senior defensive end Braeden Watters, who has made tons of big plays this year, including last week when he blocked a JA punt in the third quarter last week to ignite MRA’s second half run for its 52-14 victory.

         MRA’s state championship games the past two seasons have been lopsided victories. Two years ago, quarterback Philip Short threw for a MAIS-record 593 yards in a 49-33 victory over Jackson Prep, ending Prep’s seven-year run of state championships. Last season, running back Rayf Vinson ran for 197 yards and three TDs and quarterback Zach Beasley passed for 200 yards and ran for another score in a 41-14 victory over JA.

         MRA coach Herbert Davis will be going for his sixth state championship in his 25-year head coaching career Saturday. He has won two each at MRA and Brookhaven Academy and one at Pillow Academy. He is the only football coach in Mississippi history to take five schools (MRA, Brookhaven Academy, Pillow, Heritage and Winston) to state championship games. Davis has won 219 games in his career.

         If MRA wants to claim another title, the Patriots need to slow down Hartfield’s No. 18, speedy senior running back Xavier Davis, who ran for 214 yards and one TD and caught a TD pass in Hartfield’s 17-13 victory over Prep in the semifinals. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Davis has 134 carries for 1,244 yards – 9.3 yards per carry – and 19 TDs, caught 10 passes for 97 yards and two TDs and returned six kickoffs for 263 yards and two TDs this season. That’s 150 touches for 1,604 yards, an average of 10.7 yards. He also has 13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception for a TD and 1 fumble recovery for a TD.

         In addition, Hartfield senior quarterback Cruz Garner did not play against MRA in the first meeting due to a shoulder injury. But he is back after guiding Hartfield to its come from behind win over Jackson Prep. Garner led the Hawks on an 80-yard, 19-play winning drive in the fourth quarter. Garner will give MRA another scoring threat to keep an eye on. 

         MRA 35, Hartfield 14.

         Tri-County Academy (12-1) vs. Kirk Academy (8-4), Friday, 7 p.m. at Jackson Academy

         This is Tri-County’s fifth time in the state championship game since it last won a state title in 2012. There are six seniors on this team that started in the state title game in 2019 as sophomores when Tri-County lost to Riverfield, La., 29-21. Also, Tri-County coach Philip Wasson knows how to win championships, having won two in 2011 and 2015 at Washington School.

         Tri-County almost didn’t get here this week. The Rebels need a fourth-quarter touchdown to defeat Greenville St. Joseph 14-7 last week in the semifinals. Tri-County has won five straight games since a 19-18 decision to Adams County Christian School and Tri-County was thinking they might get a rematch for the championship. But Kirk surprised ACCS 16-7 in the semifinals. Kirk hasn’t played in a state championship game since 2008 and hasn’t won a state title since 1997.

         Tri-County veterans like senior running back Trace Dearman will lead the Rebels to another state championship.

         Tri-County 28, Kirk 7.

         Greenville Christian (11-1) vs. Canton Academy (10-2), Thursday, 7 p.m., Jackson Academy

         Canton Academy, under first-year coach Gage Posey, has had a turnaround season, with a five-win improvement over last season. This is the Panthers’ first winning season since they went 13-1 and won the state championship in 2016.

         Sophomore running back Chris Hunter has had a tremendous season for Canton with 1,822 yards on 107 carries, an incredible 17 yards per carry, and 34 rushing touchdowns.

         Canton faces its toughest test of the season going up against Greenville Christian, the best team in Mississippi and ranked No. 60 in the nation by MaxPreps.

         This will be the last time this talented group of players – many who transferred from Greenville High, Greenwood High and Greenwood O’Bannon at the start of the 2020 school year because those schools weren’t playing football due to Covid pandemic – will play together and they want to make the most of it. Coach Jon Reed McLendon has done a marvelous job of putting these guys from different schools into one successful team and becoming one of the best teams in the nation. They have won 22 of their last 23 games with the only loss to Georgia public school Class 7A power Collins Hill, which is ranked No. 7 in the nation. In fact, Greenville Christian has come the closest to giving Collins Hill a game this season, trailing only 16-14 going into the fourth quarter.

         Greenville Christian is possibly the most talented team to ever play in the MAIS and one of the best in Mississippi history. Eighteen of Greenville Christian’s 22 seniors have received offers to play college football. Colleges from all over the country have called McLendon about his players. Many have already verbally committed to Division I schools – cornerback Elam to Mississippi State and linebacker J.D. Stewart to Southern Miss – while quarterback D.J. Smith and wide receiver Chris Bell, who transferred from Yazoo City High this season, are being sought after by many Division schools. Smith has been compared to Steve McNair and Bell to A.J. Brown. They are special players.

         Greenville Christian finishes its special two-year run with another victory.

         Greenville Christian 49, Canton Academy 14.

         In other games:

         Oxford (8-4) at Madison Central (10-1) W

         Warren Central (8-3) at Brandon (9-2) W

         W Kemper County (9-3) at Pelahatchie (7-5)