If recent history is any indication, this Friday’s game between Jackson Prep and Madison-Ridgeland Academy is just the appetizer to a championship main course. Five out of the last six years these two teams have met in the MAIS State Championship game following their regular season showdowns.
On paper, these two teams enter this October contest so similar it’s scary. Both are Patriots averaging just over 36 points per game on offense and defensively both giving up less than 16. Both are undefeated in district play.
MRA comes in ranked #1 in MAIS and #6 in the statewide Associated Press High School Football Poll. The Patriots own a perfect 7-0 record with wins over Trinity Christian (TX) 27-26, Copiah Academy 45-7, Jackson Academy 20-10, Bayou Academy 35-0, Corinth 51-17, Parklane 41-12 and Hartfield 42-14.
“Nobody thought our kids would do this well, this year, after losing so much talent to graduation,” said MRA Head Coach Herbert Davis. “It’s their hard work, commitment to the program and great attitudes that are driving the success.”
Davis, now in his seventh season at the helm, has built a culture at MRA that they “expect” to beat big bad Prep, not just “think” they can. Davis’ Patriots have won three of the last four meetings, the last bringing the MAIS State Championship home to Old Canton Rd in 2019.
“It really should be four in a row, as we led them in the (2018) championship game but turned the ball over five times,” said Davis.
The offense is a balanced attack, led by transfer senior quarterback Zach Beasley. Beasley has thrown for nearly 1,400 yards, 16 TDs and only four interceptions.
“Zach has progressively gotten better fundamentally. He got behind this summer since COVID took away workouts and our normal 7 on 7 competitions,” Davis said. “He’s really starting to come on the last few weeks with three straight games of more than 200 yards.”
The young wide receivers have really grown into their positions as well, led by junior Davis Dalton, who’s averaging 25 yards a catch and scored six touchdowns.
Four running backs pace the backfield in senior Rayf Vinson, juniors Hatcher Swanson and Tyler Latham, along with sophomore JJ Latham.
“We are deep at running back, keeping them all fresh matters in the second half,” adds Davis. “We will try to go tempo and wear the Prep defense down.”
Defensively, MRA will look to continue its trend of blitzing, a lot. The Pats have nearly 60 tackles for loss so far this year, 25 of them sacks.
Junior linebacker Stone Blanton, (6’2, 220 lbs.) is the heart and soul of the defense. Blanton is the leading tackler with nearly 12 a game.
“He’s a special player, a physical specimen who wants to be a great player. He’s been a starter since the eighth grade,” said Davis.
The bottom line, according to Davis, is this will be another chance to show MRA belongs among the elite.
“Prep has been a dynasty and we have aspirations to unseat them and to do that you have to beat them.”
Jackson Prep comes in ranked #2 in MAIS and #16 in the AP Poll sports an impressive 6-1 overall record with wins over Heritage Academy 41-13, Simpson Academy 49-21, Adams County Christian 42-8, Jackson Academy 30-10 and Washington School 42-0.
The Patriots only loss was to public school powerhouse in Class 2A Taylorsville, 47-37. In that game Prep turned the ball over six times and fell behind by 28 before mounting a furious comeback that came up just short.
While Prep has dominated the all-time series against MRA, Coach Ricky Black knows all too well that MRA has won three of the last four.
“It’s always a big game, everything is a big build up. Like any series it comes down to who’s got the players playing well and who’s playing well going into the playoffs.”
The Prep offense is extremely well balanced between the run and pass. It is led by senior quarterback Riley Maddox, averaging nearly 150 yards a game, and senior running back, Matt Jones, averaging 106 yards per game.
The wide receiving duo of seniors Jeffrey Ince and Thaxton Berch is among the best in the state. Ince pulls double duty as a defensive back and shined against rival JA scoring three times, once on an interception return and twice on offense.
“He is just so diverse, he’s one of a few we have playing both sides of the ball,” said Coach Black.
Senior Braedon Mabry is another of those two-way players that will play a huge role. Mabry is the team’s leading tackler at linebacker and is also a bruising fullback on offense. Other defensive players to watch in the game are junior Linebacker William Deas and senior defensive back Seth Cook.
Now in his 24th season at Prep and more than 50 years in coaching overall, Coach Black knows what it will come down to beat MRA.
“We have got to find a way to keep the ball away from them, that means winning time of possession and scoring,” says Black. “We have got to be balanced to keep them guessing.”
These two teams are so evenly matched, the recipe for winning are two common ingredients: Who has the fewest turnovers and who commits the fewest penalties.
MRA and Prep will face off 7 p.m., Friday, October 16 at MRA. The game starts at 7 p.m.
Series since 2014 Prep leads 9-3
2019 State Championship MRA 48-33
2019 MRA 34-22
2018 State Championship Prep 33-27
2018 MRA 42-21
2017 Playoffs Prep 42-7
2017 Prep 50-14
2016 State Championship Prep 34-7
2016 Prep 34-7
2015 State Championship Prep 51-13
2015 Prep 21-12
2014 State Championship Prep 35-7
2014 Prep 14-7
Prep’s keys to Victory
Offensively, exploit the blitz.: The MRA defense loves to bring pressure. If Riley Maddox has time to throw, some big plays will be out there.
Defensively, stop the run: Defensively, try to make Zach Beasley uncomfortable in the pocket to force a mistake.
MRA’s Keys to Victory
Offensively, spread the field: If Beasley can keep the linebackers chasing the recieivers, there will be room to run the ball.
Defensively, stop the run: Prep wants to reduce the number of possessions by grinding the ball down the field.