Big RivalryBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Jackson Academy and Prep face off on football field Sept. 28
The rivalry between Jackson Preparatory School and Jackson Academy (JA) isn’t lost on Annie Craig.
And if her team wins tomorrow night, the JA fourth-grader will have something to hold over her older brother and sister, both of whom attend Jackson Prep.
Prep and JA will face off in their annual matchup on Friday, September 28. Neither team has lost a game so far this season.
The game is perhaps one of the biggest regular season games of the year, pitting two crosstown rivals and two Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) powerhouses against each other.
The game could have major consequences for the post season, being a district matchup for both teams.
“It all goes into seeding in the playoffs – where you’re ranked,” said Prep Head Coach Ricky Black. “You want to be the one or two (seed) so you can get a bye week.”
In 2016, MAIS implemented a three-round playoff for Division AAAA. The first and second seeds get a bye week, while four other teams compete for the remaining two spots in the semi-finals.
Post-season aside, the game also means a year’s worth of bragging rights for the winners.
“They talk about the JA game as soon as it’s over,” Black said. “If you win, you talk about winning it. If you don’t, you talk about the next one.”
Players on the opposing teams essentially grew up together. They live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same churches and frequent the same hangouts. Some players are even related.
But for 48 minutes on that one Friday night in September, those players are sworn enemies.
“It was big simply because they were our crosstown rivals, said York Craig. Craig played for Prep in the late 1980s. Today he has two teens at Prep and a fourth-grader, Annie, at JA.
Annie will be cheering against her dad’s alma mater tomorrow night.
“She’s all in now. I want to say it was either on the first day of school or orientation that they gave her a ‘We are JA’ yard sign. She got home and planted it right next to our Prep yard sign,” he said. “She wanted to make sure it was right there by it.”
The rivalry began in 1984. Since then, the teams have met 50 times. Prep has won 35 matchups, including the first 11 and last seven, said JA Announcer Bryan Eubank.
JA’s first win against Prep came in 1995, under the late Coach Sherrod Shaw, Eubank said.
Raiders’ head Coach Larry Weems understands the game’s importance, but is more worried about meeting Prep in the post-season.
“If we meet each other in the playoffs, that’s the game that will end or continue our season,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to play next Friday (October 5) whether we win or lose.”
In 2016, Weems’ first year, the Raiders fell to the Patriots in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Indepentdent Schools playoffs, 32-7. Last year, JA lost to Prep during the regular season and fell to Parklane Academy in the playoffs.
Both years, Prep went on to win the state title.
Prep enters the game having beaten their crosstown rivals seven of the last eight times.
JA comes into the game fresh off a bye week and in perhaps the best position in years to end the Patriots’ win streak.
“They have improved from last year and have a good start to the season,” Black said. “They’ve been able to keep their personnel healthy and playing each week.”
The Raiders are off to a strong start, having outscored opponents 209-35.
The Patriots are evenly matched, having put up 237 points in the first five games, while giving up just 17, according to Maxpreps.com.
“If we carry out our assignments, play with great effort and play all four quarters, we’ll give ourselves a chance,” Weems said.
Black is pleased with his team’s play so far, but said questions still needed to be answered at the quarterback position.
“Probably the biggest thing we’ve seen improvement on is defense,” he said. “We’ve given up very few points and only two touchdowns (through five games).”
Through five games, only one team, St. Joseph Catholic School, has scored twice on the Patriots - one touchdown and one field goal in a 59-10 loss.
Meanwhile, five players have put in time at quarterback.
Through the first five games, sophomore Jackson Allen completed seven passes for 101 yards, meanwhile junior Alex Gibbs has completed 12 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown.
On the ground, Prep is led by senior Jerrion Ealy and sophomore Matt Jones. Ealy (5’9,” 190lbs.) rushed for 336 yards and nine touchdowns through four games. Jones is close behind with 220 yards and six touchdowns, according to Maxpreps.
It was unclear at press time if Ealy would suit up against JA. The Division One college prospect suffered an arm injury in week four.
“We’re being very cautious about when he plays again,” Black said. “Now we have several guys playing.”
Key personnel for the Raiders include their own Division One prospect, Kinkead Dent.
Through five games the 6’5” senior quarterback completed 32 passes for 601 yards and seven touchdowns.
JA’s ground game is led by junior Thad Bishop, who has carried the ball 80 times for 529 yards and eight touchdowns. He is followed by Dent, who has notched another 343 yards and six touchdowns.
Through the air, senior Webb Strickland leads the team in receiving yards, with 143 and three touchdowns.
“Obviously, we’d love to win. I really want to, I know we can,” Strickland said. “We’ve got the talent across the board.”