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 went 208-53 (79.6 percent) last season.
By Robert Wilson
Greenville Christian (1-0) at Jackson Prep (0-0)
For the first time in 25 years, former National High School Football Coach of the Year and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Ricky Black won’t be coaching the Patriots. Black resigned in February after winning 263 games and 13 state titles – seven in a row from 2012-2018 – in 24 seasons. He is the second winningest coach in Mississippi history with 401 career victories. His successor, Tyler Turner, 35 and more than half the age of Black, has been a head coach for six seasons with a 67-15 record, the last stop at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.
Turner will get his first taste of MAIS football and it might get salty because of Prep’s opponent. In fact, Greenville Christian might be one of the most talented teams in MAIS history. The Saints defeated two-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy 58-32 Friday ending MRA’s 19-game winning streak in the season opener for both teams. They produced 684 total yards and took out their starters midway through the fourth quarter. Greenville Christian scored 28 points in the first 14 minutes, more points than any team scored in game against MRA last season. The defending MAIS Class 3A Saints have won 12 consecutive games. Senior quarterback D.J. Smith threw for 312 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 214 yards on 20 carries and two scores and two 2-point conversions. Smith had offers from Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe, and Greenville Christian coach Jon Reed McLendon received a call from a coach from Arkansas from the SEC Sunday night. The Saints have three players who have already committed to Division I schools, 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior cornerback Jaterrious Elam (Mississippi State), 6-3, 220-pound senior wide receiver Chris Bell (Southern Miss) and 6-3, 230-pound senior linebacker J.D. Stewart (Southern Miss). Greenville Christian has 17 starters back from their team, which won its last nine games by an average of 36 points.
Greenville Christian might remind Prep fans of MSHAA opponents in the past like Bassfield and Taylorsville, which had a tremendous amount of talent and many Division I players. Prep fans also remember the Patriots defeated both Bassfield and Taylorsville at Prep as defensive coordinator Nick Brewer put together a fabulous game plan to slow down those teams’ explosive offenses. Brewer will need another one to slow down Greenville Christian.
Prep, which hasn’t won a state title since 2018, returns only eight starters from last year’s 7-3 team, which lost to Jackson Academy in the 6A semifinals and missed being in the state title game for the first time since 2010. Prep also lost five MAIS games in the past two years for the first time since 2004-2005. The Patriots will likely lose their sixth Friday night and Greenville Christian should spoil Turner’s debut as Prep’s coach.
Greenville Christian 42, Prep 14
MRA (0-1) at Natchez Cathedral (0-0)
MRA will try to bounce back from last week’s loss to Greenville Christian. The Patriots had its 19-game winning streak and 22-game home winning streak stopped by the Saints. There were some bright spots for MRA. Sophomore quarterback John White completed 21 of 35 passes for 310 yards and five TDs. Senior wide receiver Street Toler, nephew of former Ole Miss and NFL wide receiver Ken Toler, caught three TD passes, all in the first quarter. Senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commit Davis Dalton, a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Elite Eleven, had eight catches for 113 yards. But the defense, playing without Under Armour All-American senior linebacker Stone Blanton (recovering from shoulder surgery this spring), starting senior tight end Paxton Hughes (calf injury) and starting senior wide receiver Ty Brooks (foot injury), gave up big play after big play (three TD passes more than 50 yards) to Greenville Christian. Blanton and Hughes are expected to play against Cathedral, a MAIS Class 5A team which finished 10-2 last season. The two losses were to 5A defending state champion Riverfield, La., and a forfeit due to covid to Winston Academy in the second round of the playoffs.
MRA coach Herbert Davis – who has won five state titles at three different schools and is the only coach in Mississippi history to take five different schools to state championship games – should win his 210th career game in his 25th season.
MRA 42, Cathedral 21
Starkville Academy (0-0) at Jackson Academy (0-0)
JA coach Lance Pogue took the Raiders within one game of their first state championship since 2011 last season. JA finished 9-4 and defeated Jackson Prep for the first time in 12 meetings in a dramatic 28-21 come-from-behind victory – Ricky Black’s last game at Prep – to reach the MAIS Class 6A state title game. MRA defeated JA 41-20, but it still brought hope to Raider Nation that Pogue – who is a legend at South Panola, winning five state titles in 10 seasons – could bring them a state title on Sheffield Drive.
JA has plenty of talent back from last year, led by senior running back Marcus Harris, a 5-10, 230-pound power runner who had for 1,542 yards and 24 TDs last season. Harris was a second team selection the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson team. Also, senior kicker-punter Scott Swalley, a first-team All-Metro last season and a member of the Metro Jackson Elite Eleven this season, returns. He made seven field goals, a long of 45 yards, and 57 of 58 extra point attempts and averaged 37.5 yards per punt. Swalley is ranked in the Top 100 in the nation in punting and kicking in his class.
In addition to 10 returning starters, JA has two talented transfers in senior wide receiver Dakota Jordan – ranked as the No. 16 best recruit in his class in Mississippi by 247 Sports – and senior quarterback Tate Collins. Jordan transferred from Canton Academy where he was a star on offense and defense. Collins transferred from MHSAA Class 6A Madison Central where he started at quarterback until a season-ending knee injury. Collins and junior Clayton White are in a tight race to start at quarterback, so tight Pogue said it would be a game time decision who would start against Starkville. The one who doesn’t start will likely be starting at another position.
Starkville finished 6-5 last season, but lost three games by four points or less, and one by forfeit due to Covid to JA. The Volunteers won 10 games in 2019 but lost to JA 23-7. Before that the two teams haven’t meet since 2014 when Starkville won 26-22 at JA.
JA is too talented for Starkville this season and Pogue takes the first step toward winning his first state title for the Raiders.
JA 35, Starkville 14.
W Canton Academy (1-0) at Amite (0-1)
Central Hinds (0-0) at Washington (0-0) W
Clinton Christian (1-0) at Hartfield (0-0) W
W Discovery Christian (0-0) at Rebul (0-0)
Hillcrest Christian (0-1) at Delta Streets (0-0) W
W Indianola Academy (0-0) at Tri-County (0-0)
Madison St. Joseph (0-0) at Copiah (0-0) W
St. Aloysius (0-0) at Park Place (0-0) W