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 9-0 last week (100 percent) and is 185-49 (79.1 percent) for the season.
Jackson Academy (10-3) vs. MRA (11-0)
Saturday, 1:15 p.m., Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium (televised on MeTV and on maisnetwork.org)
JA has a difficult assignment this week in order to win the MAIS Class 6A state championship and win its first state title since the Raiders had a three-peat from 2009-2011. JA must put last week’s emotional victory over rival Jackson Prep behind them and concentrate to beating the MRA Patriots, who come in as the defending 6A state champions and winners of 18 straight games and 30 of the last 31 against MAIS teams.
JA ended a 12-game losing streak against Prep when the Raiders scored 21 points in the fourth quarter for a 28-21, come-from-behind victory playing without their best player, Under Armour All-American senior wide receiver Deion Smith, who was out after having foot surgery earlier in the week. Deion’s younger brother, Dan, a sophomore wide receiver, took up the slack and caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 37-yard TD with 47 seconds to play despite being double teamed in the end zone. Dan was named the Junction Deli/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week for his outstanding performance. MRA’s talented secondary will definitely be keeping an eye on Dan Smith wherever he goes Saturday. Dan has caught 39 passes for 574 yards and four TDs and ran eight times for 91 yards and one TD in eight games this season. Although just a sophomore, Dan was offered by LSU earlier this year and by Mississippi State this week.
The Smith brothers transferred from Provine to JA because Jackson Public Schools decided not to play this fall. The Smith brothers played in their first game for JA against MRA in JA’s third game this season. JA led MRA 10-6 before MRA rallied for a 20-10 victory.
In addition to getting over the Prep win, JA must also figure out how to slow down MRA’s high scoring offense, led by senior quarterback Zach Beasley, a transfer from Northwest Rankin, (2,258 yards, 26 TD passes and only four interceptions), junior wide receiver Davis Dalton (38 catches, 742 yards, 14 TDs), senior running back Rayf Vinson, a Navy commit, (15 rushing TDs) and junior running back Tylor Latham (a team-high 839 rushing yards, seven TDs). Beasley threw for 274 yards and four TDs – all in the first half – in MRA’s 42-14 victory over Presbyterian Christian in last week’s 6A semifinal. Dalton caught eight passes for 168 yards and two TDs against PCS. He missed the first game with JA.
JA junior running back Marcus Harris has gained 1,447 yards and scored 23 TDs this season, including 205 yards and a 75-yard TD to tie the game at 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter last week against Prep.
MRA counters with a solid defense, led by Under Armour All-American junior linebacker Stone Blanton, who has 99 tackles this season. Blanton has offers from six SEC schools and a school in every Power 5 Conference.
JA senior cornerback Ladarius Webb Jr., a Nebraska commit, had his best game of the year against Prep. He had a team-high eight tackles, made an interception in the end zone and caught a 40-yard TD pass. Also, JA senior cornerback Trey Adams has six interceptions, tying a school record.
While JA will be its top player in Deion Smith, MRA will be missing one of its best defensive players. Safety Hayes Puckett suffered a season-ending injury (torn labrum) against Oak Forest, La., in the last regular season game. But MRA welcomed back one of its best offensive lineman last week when George Drake returned after missing most of the season with a leg injury.
MRA’s Herbert Davis and JA’s Lance Pogue have combined to win nine state titles and more than 400 games. Davis, the 2019 Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year, has won four state titles, two at Brookhaven Academy and one each at Pillow and MRA. He is the only football coach in Mississippi history to take five different teams (MRA, Brookhaven Academy, Pillow, Heritage and Winston) to state championship appearances. Davis, in his 24th season, won his 200th career game earlier this season. Pogue, in his first year as head coach after three years as defensive coordinator, won a national title and five state titles in a 10-year span at South Panola. Pogue has won 220 games (126 at South Panola, 81 at Eupora, 10 at JA and 3 at Winona) in 21 seasons.
MRA 28, JA 21.
Other games: (Winning team in Bold)
MAIS championship games at Jackson Academy (all games live streamed on maisnetwork.org)
Class 5A: Leake (12-0) vs. Adams County Christian (10-2) Thursday, 7 p.m.
Class 4A: Riverfield, La. (11-1) vs. Wayne (9-3), Friday, 3 p.m.
Class 3A: Carroll (11-0) vs. Greenville Christian (10-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Class 2A: Manchester (12-0) vs. Riverdale, La. (8-3), Thursday, 3 p.m.
Class 1A: Briarfield, La. (10-0) vs. Tallulah, La. (8-3), Friday, 11 a.m.
MHSAA quarterfinals, Friday at 7 p.m.:
Northwest Rankin (8-3) at D’Iberville (10-0)
Ridgeland (9-2) at Neshoba Central (10-1)
Warren Central (9-2) at Clinton (9-2)