Veteran 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 County. Wilson had a 17-3 record last week (85.0 percent) and has a 236-66 record (78.1 percent) for the season.
Jackson Prep (9-3) at Madison-Ridgeland Academy (8-3)
MRA senior quarterback John White could be Mississippi’s career passing yards leader by late Friday night. The 6-foot, 204-pound White, a Southern Miss commitment, has 15,033 yards in his career, 105 yards short of Mississippi’s current record holder, Myles Brennan of St. Stanislaus, who passed for 15,138 yards from 2013-16.
White has passed for 10,508 yards at MRA (sophomore, junior and senior seasons) and 4,525 yards at Winona Christian School (eighth grade and freshman seasons). He has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,398 yards and 40 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season. White leads Mississippi and is 11th in the country in passing yards this season, according to MaxPreps. He has thrown for 155 TDs in his career, 10 short of the Mississippi state record of 165, held by Brennan. White has started 64 consecutive games.
More importantly, White could put his team into the MAIS Class 6A state championship with a victory over the defending state champions. MRA had won three straight state titles until it lost to Prep in last year’s state championship game.
The first meeting between these two teams was a classic shootout, MRA made a great comeback, rallying from 16 points down in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 50-44 victory in overtime at MRA. White – who completed 28 of 41 passes for 364 yards and three TDs – led the charge in the fourth quarter and brought MRA back. Senior running back Charles Simpson scored on third down and goal from the 1 for the winning TD in overtime. It was MRA’s first lead of the game. Prep jumped on MRA for a 10-0 lead, led 17-7 at halftime and 44-28 going into the fourth quarter.
Not only did White have a great game on MRA’s Senior Night, Simpson ran for 130 yards and four TDs and a 2-point conversion and senior wide receiver Ben Horner caught seven passes for 135 yards and one TD and a 2-point conversion.
Prep had some stars in the game as well. Junior quarterback Billy Puckett completed 22 of 33 passes for 317 yards and three TDs (two to senior wide receiver Owen McCraney and one to junior running back Cole Gideon) and junior Major Quin had 187 all-purpose yards (82 receiving yards, 81 return yards and 24 yards on an interception return for a TD).
White has benefited from a talented group of receivers this season, led by sophomore Case Thomas. Thomas – the son of former Clinton High and Alabama kicker Neal Thomas – is having an outstanding year with 52 catches for 1,139 yards (21.9 yards per catch) and 15 TDs. Thomas leads Mississippi in receiving yards, according to MaxPreps. Those numbers remind MRA fans of current Southern Miss wide receiver Davis Dalton, who caught 89 passes for 1,586 yards and 15 TDs, one of the best receiving seasons in the country in 2021 and led the Patriots to their third straight 6A state title as a senior.
MRA senior Max Zuluaga is one of the best kicker-punter combination players in the South. The Madison Central transfer has made 2 of 4 field goal attempts this season and 15 of 17 for his career. He is also averaging an impressive 48.8 yards per punt, has made 40 of 40 extra point attempts and has 26 touchbacks on kickoffs this season. Zuluaga is first in Mississippi and would be seventh in the country in punting average (he is three short of qualifying for the national list).
Senior linebacker Matthew Latham (85 tackles), sophomore defensive lineman Cade Gentry (10 sacks), and sophomore defensive back Gunnar Swanson (three interceptions) lead MRA’s defense.
Puckett has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 1,998 yards and 16 TDs with 5 interceptions. Quin is Puckett’s top target with 35 catches for 492 yards and 2 TDs. Puckett’s brother, senior tight end Peyton Puckett, has caught 28 passes for 378 yards and 4 TDs.
Senior defensive lineman Andy Brown (56 tackles, five sacks), senior linebacker Thomas Cross (67 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and senior defensive back Micah Stallworth (2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups and 2 blocked field goal attempts) lead Prep’s defense.
Prep sophomore kicker Eli Adams has made 6 of 8 field goal attempts this season. He is tied for fifth in Mississippi in made field goals, according to MaxPreps.
Both coaches – MRA’s Herbert Davis and Prep’s Doug Goodwin – are successful veteran coaches, combining for almost 500 wins and eight state titles.
Davis has won 238 games and six state titles (three at MRA, two at Brookhaven Academy and one at Pillow Academy) in 27 seasons. He is the only football coach in Mississippi history to take five schools (MRA, Brookhaven Academy, Pillow Academy, Heritage Academy and Winston Academy) to state championship games.
Goodwin has a 21-4 (an 84.0 winning percentage) in his second season at Prep and came from Alabama where he was a Hall of Fame coach. He won 234 games in 27 years as a head coach. In 2008, Goodwin became the first coach in Alabama history to take three different teams to a state championship game. He led Demopolis to a 15-0 record and a state title in 2008 and set a state record with 761 points that season.
MRA got off to a very slow start in the last meeting. It won’t happen again. MRA will get ahead early and stay ahead until the finish.
MRA 42, Jackson Prep 28.
In other games (winners in bold):
Germantown (5-5) at Oxford (7-3)
Madison Central (6-4) at Lewisburg (7-3)
Harrison Central (6-4) at Brandon (8-2)
Pearl (7-3) at Gulfport (6-4)
Callaway (4-7) at South Panola (9-1)
Terry (6-4) at George County (8-3)
Forest Hill (5-6) at Picayune (8-2)
Lafayette (6-4) at Canton (4-6)
Wayne County (3-7) at Florence (7-4)
Provine (6-5) at Laurel (5-6)
South Delta (6-5) at Velma Jackson (10-0)
Jackson Academy (8-4) at Hartfield Academy (12-0)
Centreville Academy (10-2) at Tri-County (10-1)
Greenville St. Joseph (7-3) at Canton Academy (8-3)