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 25-5 record (83.3 percent) last week and has a 106-7 (74.1 percent) this season.
By Robert Wilson
Greenville Christian (6-1) at Jackson Academy (4-1)
Greenville Christian comes to Jackson Friday night as possibly the highest rated MAIS team in history, ranked No. 58 in the nation by MaxPreps. The Saints’ only loss was to Collins Hill, Ga., High, a Class 7A public school ranked No. 7 in the nation. Greenville Christian also will be trying to become only the second team since 1999 to defeat JA, Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Prep in the same season. Only Presbyterian Christian, coached by Joey Hawkins, in 2016 accomplished the hat trick, defeating JA 23-19, MRA 45-44 in triple overtime and Prep 28-16 and its way to 11 straight victories before losing to Prep 24-21 in the playoffs.
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 titåle 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.
Greenville Christian comes to JA with 17-game winning streak against Mississippi competition – including a 48-41 victory over defending MHSAA Class 6A state champion Oak Grove and a 58-32 victory over two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion MRA in the season opener.
Greenville Christian has many players being recruited by Division I schools, most notably senior quarterback D.J. Smith, wide receiver Chris Bell, linebacker J.D. Stewart and cornerback Jaterrious Elam. Bell and Stewart are Southern Miss commitments and Elam is a Mississippi State commit, but schools are still calling Greenville Christian coach Jon Reed McLendon almost daily about this foursome and others. Florida State wanted Smith, Bell, and Stewart to visit this past weekend, but they couldn’t work it out. Michigan called about Bell last week. Maryland and Louisville have offered Bell. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others have shown interest. Bell visited MSU and Smith and Stewart visited Memphis this past weekend.
Smith has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,579 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 640 yards and 10 TDs this season. Bell has caught 23 passes for 616 yards – an average of 26.7 yards per catch – and 10 TDs. Stewart has a team-high 26 tackles and Elam a team-high five interceptions, tied for the 13th most in the country.
JA is led by defense by senior linebacker Banks Whittington (59 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries), senior lineman Max Walenta (43 tackles, 16 for loss and 13 sacks) and senior defensive back Porter Harrell (39 tackles, 4 interceptions, 5 pass breakups).
Senior running back Marcus Harris – who broke Corey McGee’s school record last week against Pillow and has 3,511 career rushing yards – is back after injuring his ankle in the first quarter against MRA. Two other offensive weapons for the Raiders are transfers – senior quarterback Tate Collins from Madison Central and senior wide receiver and MSU commit Dakota Jordan from Canton Academy. Collins has passed for 707 yards and nine TDs and ran for 292 yards and two TDs. Jordan has caught 11 passes for 299 yards, 27.2 yards per catch, and three TDs. Both Collins and Jordan give JA some depth of defense in the secondary.
Greenville Christian wins its 18th straight against Mississippi teams and completes the hat track over JA, MRA and Prep.
Greenville Christian 32, JA 17.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy (4-2) at Jackson Prep (4-1)
Two-time MAIS defending Class 6A state champion MRA has recovered from the most difficult early season in Mississippi – facing three defending state champions – and won its last three straight games and are playing excellent defense, led by Under Armour All-American and senior linebacker Stone Blanton, who appears to have almost completely recovered from his offseason shoulder surgery. Blanton – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite Eleven Team – had a season-high 21 tackles last week against Raleigh High. Blanton was named the Junction Deli/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week. MRA has allowed only 8.7 points over the past three games.
MRA sophomore quarterback and Winona Christian transfer John White continues to improve and is ranked No. 8 in the nation with 1,988 passing yards and has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns. White has already been offered by Liberty and Southern Miss. His top two targets are senior wide receivers Davis Dalton and Street Toler. Dalton, a Southern Miss commit and Elite Eleven member, has caught 42 passes for 701 yards and seven TDs and Toler has caught 29 passes for 512 yards and six TDs this season.
Prep, led by first-year coach Tyler Turner, has won four straight games after lopsided losses to Greenville Christian and Heritage Academy. Turner replaced Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer and former National Football Coach of the Year Ricky Black, who resigned this spring after winning 401 games – second winningest in Mississippi history – in his 40-year career and 263 games and 13 state titles at Prep in 24 seasons. Black will be celebrated Friday night and his former players have been invited.
In addition, possibly Prep’s most talented player, senior wide receiver-defensive back Luke Williams, returned last week against Copiah after having ankle surgery earlier this year. He was injured in the first quarter of the Greenville Christian game in the season opener. Williams had the second biggest offensive play of that game for Prep before he was injured, a 30-yard catch on Prep’s first drive.
Prep is led by junior quarterback Paxton Thompson and wide receivers Will Upton and Garner Watkins. Thompson has completed 67.0 percent his passes for 1,246 yards and nine TDs. Upton, a junior, has caught 23 passes for 616 yards and five TDs and returned eight kickoffs for 196 yards and one TD. Watkins, a senior, has caught 22 passes for 320 yards and 4 TDs. Junior linebacker Sam Watts (a team-high 26 tackles) linebacker Ethan Williams (24 tackles) and senior defensive end Chase Galloway led Prep’s defense.
MRA has won three straight and four of the last five games in this series, including a 50-24 victory last season, the most points allowed by Prep in school history. Look for MRA to continue its win streak against Prep.
MRA 35, Prep 10.
Meridian (4-1) at Pearl (4-1)
Pearl has won four straight games and averaged 40 points, after a season opening 13-12 loss at Gulfport. The Pirates, behind Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite Eleven selection and senior quarterback Jerry “J-Bird” Johnson, have been rolling for the past month. Even when Johnson went down with an injury, senior running back Jamari Thompson took over and led Pearl to a 38-12 Class 6A, Region 3 victory last week at Petal. Thompson, who is Pearl’s fifth string quarterback and had never played the position before Friday, took over after Johnson was injured late in the first half. He had 21 carries for 226 yards and two TDs. Pearl produced 399 rushing yards.
The bad news for Meridian is Johnson is back and so is Thompson.
Also, there is the fact that Pearl remembers last year’s game at Meridian when the Wildcats took care of the Pirates 53-34, the most points scored against Pearl since 2015. Pearl, known for its gritty, tough defense, isn’t going to let that happen again. Jeremy Jackson, a 5-10, 290-pound senior defensive end and member of the Elite Eleven, is the leader of the Pirate defense, which has allowed only one team to score more than two touchdowns in a game this season.
Meridian, under second-year head coach John Douglass, is having its best year since 2016 and won its first region game last week in a 42-25 victory over Northwest Rankin. Pirate fans will remember Douglass and Meridian defensive coordinator Larry Weems. Douglass was the offensive coordinator and Weems the head coach at Pearl for six seasons from 2000-2005. Weems has been off and on at Meridian for three decades, an assistant under legendary Mac Barnes in the 1980s, then head coach for 10 seasons (2006-2015) and now back for the past two seasons. Douglass played offensive-defensive line for the 1985 state championship Meridian team, recognized as one of the greatest defensive teams in Mississippi history. Weems was the defensive coordinator.
Meridian, which is missing three starters on defense due to injuries, needs to have a defensive performance like the 1985 team to slow down this Pearl offense. It won’t happen.
Pearl 35, Meridian 14.
In other games:
W Callaway (2-3) at Jim Hill (1-3), Thursday, North Jackson
W Germantown (2-3) at Murrah (1-4), Thursday, South Jackson
McLaurin (2-3) at Magee (3-1), W Thursday
Canton (2-3) at Neshoba Central (5-0) W
Carroll Academy (3-3) at Tri-County (6-0) W
Central Hinds (6-0) at Oak Forest, La. (4-2) W
Clinton (2-2) at Starkville (5-0) W
Forest Hill (1-4) at Holmes County Central (2-3) W
Grenada (4-1) at Madison Central (3-1) W
Hillcrest Christian (0-6) at Brookhaven Academy (4-2) W
W Lamar (0-6) at East Rankin (3-3)
Madison St. Joseph (2-4) at Leake Academy (5-1) W
Newton County (1-4) at Richland (4-1) W
W North Pike (3-0) at Lanier (1-3)
Parklane (2-4) at Hartfield (6-0) W
W Puckett (3-2) at Pisgah (1-4)
Rebul (0-6) at Wilkinson Christian (5-1) W
W Simpson (3-3) at Park Place (3-3)
Terry (1-4) at Northwest Rankin (0-4) W
W Velma Jackson (3-2) at Pelahatchie (2-3)
W Vicksburg (3-2) at Provine (1-4), South Jackson
W Warren Central (3-1) at Brandon (2-2)
W Wayne County (3-2) at Florence (1-3)
Wingfield (1-3) at Raymond (4-1) W