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 12-3 record last week (80.0 percent) and has a 248-69 record (78.2 percent) for the season.
Jackson Prep (10-3) vs. Hartfield (13-0), Saturday, 6 p.m. at Mississippi College in Clinton
Hartfield will be looking to make history as the Hawks take on the MAIS Class 6A state champions for the state title.
Hartfield, just three years after moving up to the highest classification in the MAIS, could finish with the first undefeated season in school history and become the first MAIS Class 6A team to finish 14-0.
MRA is the last 6A team to finish undefeated with a 13-0 record in 2020. Prep was 13-0 in 2017, 2015, 2012 and 2007. JA finished 13-0 in 2011.
Hartfield coach Craig Bowman has done an outstanding job this season. In his fourth season at Hartfield, he defeated three coaches – Lafayette’s Anthony Hart, MRA’s Herbert Davis and Prep’s Doug Goodwin – in a row who had at least 200 career victories, quite an accomplishment.
He had a good nucleus coming back this year led by senior running back and Southern Miss commitment Reed Jesiolowski, senior linebacker and Southern Miss commitment Chris Jones, sophomore defensive back-wide receiver-kick returner and SEC prospect Bralan Womack and junior wide receiver-defensive back and Division I prospect Kenzy West.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Jesiolowski – who is extremely hard to bring down and has run over plenty of defensive players during his career – has gained 1,794 yards and 22 TDs and caught 14 passes for 267 yards and five TDs this season despite not playing more than a half in many games.
Jones is a force on defense and has 104 tackles this season and teams try to run away from him. He has speed and tackles with plenty of intensity.
Womack – considered one of the top sophomores in the country with many offers, including two-time defending national champion Georgia – has scored TDs five different ways. He has seven interceptions and one for TD and returned a fumble for a TD, caught 28 passes for 458 yards and nine TDs, has 590 kickoff and punt return yards and four TDs (two kickoffs and two punts). Prep would be smart not to kick it to Womack. He is averaging 54.8 yards on kickoff returns and 30.1 yards on punt returns.
West has been Hartfield’s top receiver with 48 catches for 878 yards and 12 TDs and has four interceptions.
Hartfield added two key starters this season in 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior defensive lineman and Madison St. Joseph transfer Reginald Vaughn – one of the best at his position in the Class of 2025 in the country with many Division I offers, including six from the SEC (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, two-time defending national champion Georgia, Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee) – and junior quarterback and Northwest Rankin transfer Cayman Tapper, who has passed for 1,956 yards and 31 TDs with only 6 interceptions and has done a great job of getting the ball into the hands of his teammates.
Prep is coming off an impressive, 28-25 win over MRA in the semifinals. Senior defensive tackle Andy Brown, senior linebacker Thomas Cross, junior linebacker Laird Johnson and senior defensive back Micah Stallworth led Prep’s defense, which kept MRA from scoring 42 points for the first time this season. MRA was averaging 48.8 points per game going into the Prep game, but longtime Prep defensive coordinator Nick Brewer – who has slowed down some of the best offenses in Mississippi over the last two decades – brought pressure from different positions to kept MRA guessing.
Prep junior quarterback Billy Puckett ran for 157 yards and two TDs and passed for 106 more to lead the offense. Puckett’s biggest play came with the game in the balance and MRA leading 25-21 with 5 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Prep had fourth and 2 from the MRA 10 and Prep needed a TD to take the lead. Puckett faked a handoff and took off through the middle of the MRA defense and ran for the TD.
Prep’s offensive line – 6-6, 260-pound junior left tackle Cole Allen, 6-2, 275-pound junior left guard Thomas Coco, 5-11, 245-pound senior center Allen Rebich, 6-4, 230-pound junior right guard Robert Watson and 6-8, 300-pound junior right tackle Matthew Parker – controlled the line of scrimmage and led the way for 299 rushing yards and protected Puckett on pass plays. Prep’s big offensive line could give Hartfield some problems at the line of scrimmage.
Goodwin has a 22-4 (an 84.6 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.
Prep has slowed down Hartfield before. Brewer and Prep’s defense limited Hartfield to 159 total yards in a 10-7 win in the 6A state semifinals last season at Prep. Jesioslowski only gained 40 yards on 19 carries and didn’t score a TD.
Hartfield 28, Jackson Prep 14
Pearl (8-3) at Brandon (9-2)
Eat Dirt. Round Two.
The Rankin County Super Bowl gets a bonus game this year as the two rivals meet for the second time in the quarterfinals of the MHSAA Class 7A state playoffs.
Brandon – the No. 1 seed from Region 3 – has won nine in a row, and defeated Harrison Central – the No. 4 seed from Region 4 – 41-13 last week in the first round at Brandon.
Pearl – the No. 3 seed from Region 3 – surprised Gulfport – the No. 2 seed from Region 4 – 17-13 at Gulfport last week.
For the second straight week, senior linebacker Kayvion Freeman was the defensive star for the Pirates, with 8 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 quarterback hurries, 2 pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery. Freeman was named the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Player of the Week after he had a monster game in a 21-0 victory at Meridian. The 6-3, 200-pound Freeman had a team-high 13 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble and held Meridian’s talented running back-quarterback Daniel Hill to only 10 rushing yards and out of the end zone.
Brandon needs to keep an eye on Freeman – No. 1 – who missed several games earlier this season and has been really coming on in the second half of the season. He could create some problems for Brandon’s running game and senior running back and Louisiana Monroe commitment Nate Blount, who has gained 1,345 yards and 20 TDs this season.
Pearl must watch Brandon defensive lineman-linebacker Jaeden Calender, (No. 9) who has an incredible senior season with 189 tackles, 27 for loss, 10 sacks, 41 hurries and 2 blocked punts. His 17.2 tackles per game leads Mississippi and is in the Top 10 in the country. Calender had 17 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 5 hurries and 1 blocked punt in two and a half quarters last week.
Brandon’s Sam Williams and Pearl’s Justin Hunter have done remarkable jobs this season.
Williams in his third season at Brandon is shooting to take his team to their third straight state championship game and has a 32-7 record at Brandon. He is two wins away from that third trip, something few coaches have accomplished in Mississippi history, especially at the highest classification.
Hunter, in his fourth season as Pearl’s head coach after being John Perry’s offensive coordinator for six seasons, has made the most dramatic turnaround maybe in Mississippi this season, taking his team from a two-win season last year to eight wins this year. His terrific turnaround reminds Rankin County high school football fans of Toby Collum’s turnaround at Northwest Rankin when he took the Cougars from a three-win season to a nine-win season and was named Metro Jackson Coach of the Year in 2020. A win over Brandon for Hunter would be an even bigger accomplishment.
Pearl won its first five games for only the second time since Coach Doug Merchant had back-to-back 9-0 and 6-0 starts in 1982 and 1983. The only other time since then was when Perry led the Pirates to the state championship and 16-0 season in 2017.
This isn’t the first time the two teams played each other twice in the same season. Brandon defeated Pearl 14-10 in the last regular season game in 2018, then defeated Pearl 34-33 in the second round of the 6A state playoffs. Brandon finished 13-2 that year and lost Oak Grove in the next round. Pearl finished 8-5.
Brandon junior wide receiver Jay McQueen was the star of the first meeting this season. McQueen, who was Landon Varnes’ backup a quarterback last season, caught five TD passes – one short of the Mississippi record – from Varnes to lead Brandon to a 42-20 victory. He caught eight passes for 158 yards and broke the school record for most TD catches in a single game, previously held by Ashton Nickleberry, who caught four in 2019.
This game will be closer, but Brandon will take another step closer to the state championship game.
Brandon 28, Pearl 21
In other games (winners in bold):
Bowling Green, La., (9-3) vs. Tri-County Academy, 3 p.m., MAIS Class 4A state championship, Mississippi College, Clinton
Madison Central (7-4) at Tupelo (9-2)
Terry (7-4) at West Jones (11-0)
Gautier (7-4) at Florence (8-4)
Resurrection (10-1) at Velma Jackson (11-0)