By Robert Wilson
MADISON – Three-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy – despite having another key player injured in the game – showed it is still the king of MAIS football Friday night against Jackson Prep.
MRA scored 13 points and held Prep scoreless in the second half for a 26-14 win and hand Prep its first loss this season before an estimated crowd of 3,500 at MRA.
MRA improved to 6-2 and won its 16th consecutive game against MAIS competition and 47 of its last 48 games against MAIS teams, with its only loss in that streak to Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian, which is considered of the best teams in MAIS history and finished ranked No. 60 in the country last season. MRA also defeated Prep for the fifth straight time.
Prep dropped to 6-1 and first-year head coach Doug Goodwin lost his first game in Mississippi after winning 243 games in 27 years in Alabama.
MRA lost several stars to graduation like Metro Jackson Player of the Year Davis Dalton (now at Southern Miss), and Under Armour All-American linebacker Stone Blanton (now at South Carolina), then lost leaders like linebacker Jeffrey Polk, tight end Pax Hughes and offensive lineman Mason McCrory – all senior starters – to injuries this season.
Despite losing those players, MRA had won all four of its MAIS games, defeated MHSAA Class 3A power Raleigh and played Tennessee state champion Oakland and Arkansas state champion Pulaski Academy closer than it did last season before playing Prep Friday night.
Then, MRA lost talented senior running back-defensive back JJ Latham – one of its leaders on the team – to a concussion in the first half. He did not play in the second half.
Prep led 14-13 at halftime, but MRA found the end zone twice and kept Prep from scoring in the second half.
Sophomore running back Charles Simpson scored on fourth and goal from the Prep 1 for a 19-14 MRA lead with 3 minutes, 27 seconds in the third quarter. After MRA stopped a Prep drive when the Patriot defense pressured Prep senior quarterback Paxton Thompson into an incompletion on fourth and 9 from the MRA 14 in the last minute of the third quarter.
MRA junior quarterback John White – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – scored on a 45-yard run to give MRA a 26-14 lead with 5:17 to play.
“We just find a way to win,” said MRA coach Herbert Davis, who won his 226th game in his 25-year head coaching career, which includes six state titles. “We have that next up man mentality. We just keep coaching them and we are blessed to have guys step up and play well. Just like tonight, our sophomore running back, Casen Macke, who came in and made some big runs in the second half (replacing Latham).”
MRA’s defense – led by senior linebacker Bennett Cloud, senior lineman Alex Hillhouse, senior safety Breck McCalop and senior cornerback Noah Short – held Prep’s high scoring offense, which came into Friday night’s averaging 44 points per game, in check in the second half. MRA associate head coach and defensive coordinator Danny White, who has been a big season why the Patriots have won three consecutive state titles, had a good plan to slow down Prep.
“One thing we tell our kids we want to improve each series,” White said. “Every play is a teaching opportunity. This allows our kids to play with freedom to trust the process. If we can improve with each opportunity as a unit, we feel the result will take care of itself. Second, we want to play fast, physical with a ballhawk mentality.”
Prep took a 7-0 lead when Thompson completed a 37-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Will Upton with 6:31 to play in the first quarter. MRA tied the game at 7-7 when White completed a 9-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Rivers Godwin with 1:19 to play in the first quarter. Latham made an interception to set up the tying score. Latham then scored on a 3-yard run and Prep blocked the extra point attempt for a 13-7 MRA lead with 4:14 to play in the second quarter. Thompson completed a 10-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver Owen McCraney and senior Luke Harrigill kicked the extra point for a 14-13 Prep lead with 20 seconds to play before halftime.
Prep’s Goodwin, who is a member of the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame, is trying to bring Prep bring back the state championship dominance that coach Ricky Black put together (a 263-44 record, an 85.6 winning percentage, in 24 seasons). Black won 13 state titles, including a record seven in a row from 2012-2018, before MRA stopped the streak. Prep struggled to a 8-5 record – the most losses since the first year of the school in 1970 – under Tyler Turner last season, but Goodwin has turned it around.
Goodwin and his team definitely showed they closed the gap between the two teams, but not enough Friday to earn the victory. MRA had scored 48, 50 and 50 points on Prep (the most a Prep team had ever allowed) in the last three games. Prep’s defense did a much better job of slowing down MRA this time. But it wasn’t enough.
“We didn’t play our best,” Goodwin said. “Penalties killed us. It seemed like every time we got within scoring distance, we committed a penalty. It’s tough to beat good teams when you do that.”
Prep also lost its most productive running back, junior Lake Womack, to a knee injury in the first half. Womack led Prep with 377 yards and five TDs before Friday.