Veteran sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing the Priority One Bank predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties. Robert had a 9-1 record (90.0 percent) last week in the first week of the 2022 season.
By Robert Wilson
Oxford (0-0) at Brandon (0-0):
Oxford senior quarterback Mack Howard – the No. 1 quarterback in Mississippi and No. 27 quarterback in the country in the Class of 2023 by 247 Sports Composite rankings – transferred from MAIS Class 5A Heritage Academy to play against MHSAA Class 6A competition.
The Utah commit jumps right into the fire Friday night when he and his Oxford teammates visit 2021 MHSAA Class 6A runner-up Brandon.
Howard completed 73 percent of his passes for 3,475 yards and 47 touchdowns with only three interceptions and led Heritage to its second MAIS Class 5A state title in three seasons and a 12-1 record last season as a junior. Howard passed for 334 yards and six TDs in a 51-21 victory over Copiah in the championship game.
Howard – who has Division I offers from Kansas, Louisville, Arkansas State, Cincinnati, Houston, and Middle Tennessee State – got his first taste of MSHAA Class 6A football last week. He completed 5 of 10 passes for 164 yards and three TDs in a 48-14 victory over Desoto Central in a jamboree.
Howard will step it up the competition even more Friday night with Brandon, one of the favorites to win the 6A state title, and coach Sam Williams, last year’s Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Coach of the Year after he led the Bulldogs to a 11-3 record and the 6A state runner-up finish in his first season as Brandon. He took Brandon to the state championship game for only the second time in school history.
Like Oxford, Brandon should be able to light up the scoreboard with eight starters back on an offense that averaged 32.6 points per game. The Bulldogs’ offense features three players (senior running back Nate Blount, senior offensive lineman and Southern Miss commitment Luke Rogers and senior tight end DeCoreyea Buchanan) on the Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team. Blount had 1,442 yards and 17 TDs before missing the last three games with a collarbone injury last season as a junior. Also, senior running back and Louisiana Tech commitment Jarvis Durr returns after running for 1,120 yards and 16 TDs. Like Oxford, Brandon has added a talented transfer, Madison-Ridgeland Academy freshman running back Quincy Phillips, who gained a team-high 530 yards and 12 TDs and caught 19 passes for 214 yards and 2 TDs and helped the Patriots to their straight MAIS Class 6A state championship. Williams is expected to use Phillips in a variety of positions. Senior Lester Miller (898 receiving yards and 8 TDs) leads a deep receiving group. In addition, junior quarterback Landon Varnes passed for 2,547 yards and 19 TDs last season.
In addition to Howard, Oxford has eight returning starters on offense, including running back Roman Gregory (1,042 yards, 14 TDs) and tight end Jack Harper (five TDs).
Oxford finished 8-5 last season after winning 26 games and losing only two in 2019 and 2020 when the Chargers won the 6A state title in 2019 and lost by one point to Oak Grove for the 6A state title in 2020.
This is a matchup of two excellent coaches, Oxford’s Chris Cutcliffe, son of former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, and Williams, a former Mississippi State wide receiver, who are considered two of the best young coaches in Mississippi. Cutcliffe has a 58-20 record entering his seventh season at Oxford. Williams has a 48-17 record entering his sixth season as a head coach, three years at Pelahatchie and one each at Ridgeland and Brandon.
This game will be a shootout. Brandon’s defense, with only five starters back from last year, will have a tough time slowing down the accurate Howard and the explosive Oxford offense. Also, Oxford’s defense, led by senior linebacker and Arkansas commitment Alex Sanford (one of five returning starters on defense), will face a challenge trying to tackle maybe the best one-two running back combos in the state in Blount and Durr.
Oxford 36, Brandon 35 in overtime.
Madison Central (0-0) at West Jones (0-0):
The defending MHSAA Class 6A state champion Jaguars make a road trip to Jones County to face the Class 5A Mustangs.
Madison Central, under second-year coach Toby Collums, returns 10 starters (six on offense and four on defense), from last year’s team, which finished 13-1 and defeated Brandon 24-17 in the 6A state title game. Madison Central won its first state title since 1999.
Madison Central has two players (senior quarterback and Louisiana Tech commitment Vic Sutton and senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commitment Isaiah Spencer) on the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team. Sutton passed for 1,653 yards and 17 TDs and ran for 334 yards and 5 TDs before suffering a torn ACL and missed the last two games last season. Spencer caught 47 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 TDs. Also, senior running back Deandre Pullen returns. He gained 1,130 yards and 15 TDs last season.
Collum had his second consecutive outstanding season. He was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year when he led Northwest Rankin to a huge turnaround, going from 3-8 in 2019 to 9-4 in 2020 and won a second-round playoff game for the first time in school history.
Sutton, who also started some at quarterback as a sophomore, completed 10 of 18 passes for 117 yards and three TDs to lead Madison Central to a 27-21 victory and end West Jones’ 10-game winning streak last season in the season opener. West Jones quarterback Marlon Lindsey, who returns this season, passed for 229 yards in last year’s game.
Scott Pierson starts his 22nd season as West Jones head coach and has one of the best Class 5A programs in Mississippi. He has won 246 career games. Pierson has won 9, 13, 13 and 12 games, one state title (2020) and one runner-up finish in the past four seasons.
Madison Central 28, West Jones 14
Heritage (1-0) at Jackson Prep (1-0):
First-year Heritage coach Lance Pogue, of the most successful coaches in Mississippi history, faces first-year Prep coach Doug Goodwin, one of the most successful coaches in Alabama history.
Pogue – who came to Heritage after five seasons at Jackson Academy, the last two as head coach – has won 228 games in 24 seasons, including 126 wins, one national championship and five state titles in 10 seasons at South Panola. He led JA to a 10-4 record and a MAIS Class 6A runner-up finish two years ago, the first time JA had been to the title game since 2013. JA defeated Prep 28-21 in the state semifinals to end Prep’s 12-game consecutive win streak over JA. It was Ricky Black’s final game at Prep’s head football coach. Black, the second winningest football coach in Mississippi history, resigned the next February. Pogue led JA to an 8-4 record and the 6A state semifinals last season.
Goodwin, an Alabama native and Auburn graduate,
had a 234-91 record, a 72 percent winning percentage, in 27 seasons coaching high school in Alabama at Marion County, Lineville, Demopolis, Russellville and Homewood from 1987-2013. In 2008, Goodwin became the first coach in Alabama history to take three different teams to a state championship game. He led his teams to 14 area and regional championships, 21 state playoff appearances, five state championship appearances, and one state championship. Goodwin led Demopolis to a 15-0 record and a state title in 2008 and set a state record with 761 points that season. Goodwin was named the Alabama Football Coaches Association State Coach of the Year in 2008 and elected to the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Pogue replaced Sean Harrison, now the head of schools. Harrison led Heritage to 65 wins and two state titles in the past six seasons, including two wins over Prep in the last three years.
Heritage has 14 starters back (seven on offense and seven on defense) from last year’s team, which won the MAIS Class 5A state title. The top returnees are wide receiver-outside linebacker Trey Naugher and inside linebacker and Air Force commitment Luke Fisher. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Naugher caught 63 passes for 1,081 yards and 18 TDs and had 54 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries last season. Naugher also plays basketball and runs track and field and won the 400 meters at the 5A state meet this spring. The 6-2, 210-pound Fisher had 119 tackles, 19 for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception for a TD last season. Also a running back, Fisher gained 492 yards and scored 12 TDs.
The star player from last year, senior quarterback and Utah commitment Mack Howard, transferred to Oxford High (see above in the Oxford at Brandon preview). But Pogue feels he has found a rising star quarterback in converted linebacker Jack Ketchum, a 6-2, 190-pound junior who is a Division I baseball prospect. Also, Pogue is excited about 6-2, 205-pound junior running back Jay Stevenson, a transfer from MHSAA Class 2A Eupora High who had 200 yards and three TDs in about 2 1/2 quarters in last week’s 45-16 victory over Lamar in the season opener. Stevenson had 1,289 yards on 163 carries, a 7.9-yard average, and scored 23 TDs last season as a sophomore. He is going to also play safety.
Goodwin replaced Tyler Turner, who resigned in January after one season after an 8-5 record, the most losses at Prep since 1970, the first year of the school.
Goodwin – was a special teams analyst for the past two seasons at Ole Miss and held a variety of coaching positions, including Director of High School Relations, at Auburn from 2014-2019 – hopes to improve on that mark. He got Prep off to a great start last week with a 48-6 victory over two-time defending MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian in its season opener.
The Patriots have 10 returning starters from last year’s team, including senior quarterback Paxton Thompson and senior wide receiver Will Upton. Thompson passed for 2,249 yards and 20 TDs and Upton caught 61 catches, a school record 1,108 yards, and 12 TDs. Thompson completed 8 of 16 passes for 155 yards and three TDs, two to William Laird and one to Upton in last week’s win over Greenville Christian.
Heritage 28, Jackson Prep 21
MRA (2-0) at Oakland, Tenn. (1-0):
Three-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy is on a roll. The Patriots have won 12 straight games, 43 of its last 44 against MAIS competition and 32 of its last 35 games, all three losses to state champions from Mississippi (MAIS Class 3A Greenville Christian), Tennessee (Class 6A Public School Oakland High) and Arkansas (Class 2A Pulanski Academy) last season.
MRA avenged its loss to Greenville Christian with a 48-13 victory in this year’s season opener. The Saints graduated 22 players, 18 of whom are playing college football. MRA won’t be as fortunate this week when they travel 6 1/2 hours to Murfreesboro to play Oakland, who finished No. 10 in the nation last season. Oakland is ranked No. 1 in the Class 6A in Tennessee and is ranked No. 39 nationally by High School America this season. Oakland defeated Hendersonville 42-0 last week to open its season and were up 35-0 at halftime. That was Oakland’s 31st consecutive victory and hasn’t lost since the 2020 Class 6A state championship game. Oakland has won 56 of its last 57 games.
While Oakland is ranked No. 39 by High School America, MRA comes in at No. 143. No. 89 Madison Central is the highest rated Mississippi team.
MRA lost to Oakland 31-13 at MRA last season.
Oakland’s three Division I signees – running backs Antonio Patterson (Florida International) and Jordan James (Oregon) and wide receiver Isaiah Horton (Miami, Fla.) – graduated, but Oakland has plenty of guys to fill their spots. Possibly their best player – senior linebacker and Tennessee State commitment Eric Taylor – didn’t play in the season opener due to a shoulder injury.
MRA comes into this difficult matchup without two of its best players, senior tight end Pax Hughes (ankle surgery) and senior linebacker Jeffrey Polk (knee injury).
MRA does have junior quarterback and Southern Miss commitment John White, a member of the Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team who is ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in Mississippi and No. 49 in the country in the Class of 2024 by 247 Sports. White has completed 26 of 40 passes (65.0 percent) for 351 yards and five TDs without an interception in the first two games while playing only in the first half of two lopsided wins over Greenville Christian and Cathedral.
MRA will do good just to keep this one close.
Oakland 42, MRA 14.
In other games (winners in bold):
Ocean Springs (0-0) at Clinton (0-0) (Thursday)
Bogue Chitto (0-0) at Pisgah (0-0)
Bowling Green, La. (1-0) at Tri-County (1-0)
Callaway (0-0) at Yazoo City (0-0)
Canton Academy (2-0) at Winston (0-1)
Central Hinds (1-0) at Park Place (0-1)
Cleveland Central (0-0) at Murrah (0-0) (South Jackson Field)
Clinton Christian (2-0) at Amite School Center (1-1)
Discovery Christian (0-1) at Kemper Academy (0-1)
East Rankin (1-0) at Columbia Academy (0-2)
Forest Hill (0-0) at Warren Central (0-0)
Gautier (0-0) at Provine (0-0) (Hughes Field)
Germantown (0-0) at Vicksburg (0-0) (Warren Central Field)
Hillcrest Christian (1-0) at Deer Creek (0-1)
Jim Hill (0-0) at McComb (0-0)
Lanier (0-0) at Crystal Springs (0-0)
Leake Academy (1-0) at Jackson Academy (1-0)
Madison St. Joseph (0-1) at Cathedral (0-1)
Magnolia Heights (1-0) at Hartfield (0-0)
McLaurin (0-0) at Puckett (0-0)
Northwest Rankin (0-0) at Ridgeland (0-0)
Pelahatchie (0-0) at Florence (0-0)
Salem (0-0) at St. Andrew’s (0-0)
South Pike (0-0) at Pearl (0-0)
Terry (0-0) at Raymond (0-0)
Wingfield (0-0) at Richland (0-0)
Velma Jackson (0-0) at Canton (0-0) (Saturday)