MADISON RIDGELAND Academy and Jackson Academy will open district play Friday in a matchup that’s as much about bragging rights as it is playoff implications.
MRA comes into the game undefeated, having vanquished its first two foes, outscoring them 97-13.
JA hopes to get back on track after a shaky start. In the first game of the year, the Raiders fell to Pillow Academy in a 26-21 heartbreaking loss.
“We had possession and field position with a chance to move the ball and were doing it, and we didn’t hold onto the ball,” said JA head coach Larry Weems. “We can’t do that in close ball games.”
In its season opener against Pillow, the Raiders had seven turnovers, four of which were recovered by the Mustangs.
Even so, there were some bright spots. The defense held Pillow quarterback phenom Shane Houston Stephens to just 135 passing yards. Last year, the quarterback threw for about 185 yards per game.
Meanwhile, JA starting quarterback Andrew Holmes (5’10”, 146 lbs.) passed for 158 yards and one touchdown and completed eight of 15 passes. Holmes, a junior, replaced starter Jackson Conn after a pre-season injury took him out for the year. Last year, Holmes played as receiver.
“He’s doing all he can to give his teammates a chance to win,” Weems said. “But we have to get a lot better there and in other spots if we’re going to be as effective offensively.”
MRA comes into the game with the wind at their backs. The Patriots had already notched two wins at press time and were going up against Copiah Academy last week.
Leading the charge will be quarterback Philip Short. The senior completed 15 of 19 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ rout of Washington School.
Through the first two games, Short completed 27 of 33 passing attempts for 463 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He hasn’t played the second half yet,” head coach Herbert Davis said prior to MRA’s August 30 game.
The Patriot offense has a number of other weapons, including a deep receiving corps. “Landon Fulcher, Russ Sceroler, Tyler Starnes, Rayf Vinson, Joe Perkins – we play about seven or eight a game,” Davis said. “It’s all about who performs the best during practice.”
While the offense has been lighting up front, Davis said the Patriot defense has blown several assignments, something that could hurt them in division play.
Penalties also have plagued the MRA squad. In the first two games, the Patriots have been penalized 25 times for 185 yards.
“If we can clean those up (mistakes), I think we could see some special things for us,” he said. “We have to get better fundamentally. We have to get better every day at practice.”
In his sixth year, Davis said it’s not necessarily about starting strong, but finishing strong. Last year, the Patriots finished 12-0 and won the division, before losing in the championship to Jackson Preparatory School. The Patriots beat prep 42-21 in the regular season but lost 33-27 in the season finale rematch.
“I believe our program is where we want it to be, we just need to go prove it,” Davis said. “We have to prove it and win that big one.” MRA has won four of the last five matchups against the Raiders. JA’s last win against the Patriots came in 2017, when the Raiders defeated them 30-7.
Both teams will likely be playing with a chip on their shoulders. “It’s not only a district game, it’s JA,” Davis said. “They’re our rival and everybody always gets a little fired up about that.”
Madison-Ridgeland Academy will face off against Jackson Academy on Friday, September 6, at MRA. The game begins at 7 p.m.
Drew Horton, Rayf Vinson, Willie Latham III, Joe Perkins, Russ Sceroler, Tyler Starnes, Philip Short, Eli Miciello, Jude Aldridge, Stone Blanton, Davis Dalton, Justin Williams, Sam Polles, Cameron Covey, Hatcher Swanson. Braedan Watters, Clay Olson, Drew Peacock, Trey Zito, Hayes Puckett, T Latham, Bennett Cloud, Aden Long, Clayton White, Ty Brooks, A.J. Hasley, Street Toler, McCoy Evans, Peyton Simon, Landon Fulcher, Will Barber, J.T. Wynne, Braeden Mills, Cade Carter, Alston Ross, Kinsman Pace, Donovan Hasley, Logan Barber, Will Hornback, Thomas Adams, Logan Jones, Landon McGee, Rush Bland, Aidan Sullivan, Britt Davis, Nico Davenport, Harper Blake, Brendan Butler, John Philip Wilke, George Drake
MRA Keys to Victory
- Cut out the penalties: In the first two games, MRA had 25 penalties, resulting in the loss of 185 yards.
- Stay focused: District play is just beginning. Despite easy wins early on, the Patriots can’t look past any opponent.
- Limit mistakes/penalties: If history repeats itself, this will be a one-possession game. Too many penalties or turnovers could be the deciding factor.
JA Keys to Victory
- Limit turnovers: Seven turnovers in the season opener against Pillow likely cost JA an early season win.
- Slow the pace of the game: The Raiders’ defense must slow down MRA’s up-tempo offense. At the same time, the Raiders must keep its offense on the field as long as possible, to give its young defense rest.