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 10-6 last week (62.5 percent) and is 175-49 (78.1 percent) for the season.
Jackson Academy (9-3) at Jackson Prep (7-2)
Prep goes for its 13th straight victory over crosstown rival JA in the MAIS Class 6A semifinals at Prep. JA hasn’t beaten Prep since the 2013 regular season. The Raiders will have to try to break the streak against the Patriots without their best player, senior Under Armour All-American wide receiver Deion Smith, who is out with an injury. Smith – rated as the best player in Mississippi and the No. 7 wide receiver in the country by 247 Sports – injured his foot early in the first quarter in JA’s 35-7 victory over Parklane last week in the first round of the 6A playoffs. Smith, who has verbally committed to defending national champion LSU, has averaged 19.7 yards every time he touches the ball for JA this season. He has caught 36 passes for 640 yards and seven TDs, ran eight times for 189 yards and two TDs and returned six kickoffs for 159 yards and one TD this season.
Prep defeated JA 30-10 Oct. 2 at Prep, but the game was closer than the final score because Prep scored two TDs in the final minute. JA had several chances to tie the game at 17-17 in the second half, but the Patriots kept the Raiders out of the end zone. JA hasn’t lost a game since, winning five straight.
If Prep is to win No. 13 in a row, the Patriots need to slow down JA’s two other dangerous offensive weapons, Smith’s brother Dan, a sophomore wide receiver, and 5-10, 225-pound junior running back Marcus Harris. Dan has caught 26 passes for 443 yards and two TDs and ran seven times for 92 yards and one TD. Harris has run for 1,242 yards and 184 carries, 6.7 yards per carry, and 22 TDs. He had 176 yards and two TDs in last week’s win over Parklane.
Prep looks to seniors like running back Matt Jones (808 rushing yards, 10 TDs), quarterback Riley Maddox (1,070 yards, nine TD passes), linebacker-fullback Braedon Mabry (a team-high 80 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss), wide receiver-defensive back Thaxton Burch (a team-high 23 catches for 393 yards and four TDs, one interception for a TD) and wide receiver-defensive back Jeffrey Ince (four TD receptions, two TD interception returns) in big games like this one. Also, two Jackson Public School transfers, one a former teammate of the Smith brothers at Provine, could play big roles Friday night. Tight end-defensive end Kendarius Smith, a Provine transfer, and linebacker-running back Chris Peals, a Lanier transfer, have helped make key plays for Prep this season.
Key defensive players for JA are senior linebacker Donovan Veasley, senior cornerback Lardarius Webb Jr., junior cornerback Trey Adams and junior free safety Porter Harrell. Adams has a team-high six interceptions, including two for TDs. Webb has verbally committed to Nebraska.
Prep coach Ricky Black will be going for his 402nd career victory Friday night. He became only the second high school football coach in Mississippi history to win 400 games with a 23-0 victory over Parklane Oct. 23. Black ranks No. 19 among active high school football coaches in the country in victories and is ranked No. 38 in all-time victories entering this season. Black, who is in his 40th season, won 49 games at Kosciusko High, 89 at Tupelo High and the last 263 at Prep. Black has won 13 state championships, all at Prep. He was named the National High School Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 2018 and was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
This will be the second meeting for Black against first-year JA coach Lance Pogue, who won a national championship and five state titles in 10 seasons at South Panola before coming to JA as defensive coordinator four years ago.
Black should get win No. 402 and get a shot at winning his 14th state title next week against the winner of defending 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Presbyterian Christian.
Prep 24, JA 21.
Horn Lake (5-4) at Clinton (6-2)
Madison Central (7-3) at Oxford (9-0)
Ocean Springs (8-2) at Northwest Rankin (7-3)
Pearl (4-7) at Harrison Central (7-2) W
Presbyterian Christian (8-4) at MRA (10-0)
Ridgeland (6-2) at Lake Cormorant (7-2)