Teams earn byeBy ANTHONY WARREN,
MID-SoutH Association of Independent Schools Class 6A playoffs get under way this week, and for three schools that means a Friday night off.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy (10-2, 5-0) earned the top seed in the district, followed by Jackson Prep (9-2, 4-1) and Jackson Academy (7-4, 3-2).
Based on their records, all three earned first-round byes.
Coaches are hoping to use the time to rest up and get players healthy before the second round.
All three say they’ll have to elevate their play to be successful.
MRA head coach Herbert Davis hopes history doesn’t repeat itself. Last year, his squad went undefeated in the regular season, only to fall in the championship to Prep.
“It hurt. It hurt bad to me,” he said. “It’s something hopefully we learned from and hopefully remember as we go down this stretch.”
MRA started the season strong, winning five straight before falling to Philadelphia High School and Briarcrest Christian High in weeks six and seven.
After that, the Patriots won five straight including a road win against Jackson Prep.
Davis said his team has played better as a result of those losses. “At Philadelphia, we got inside the 25-yard-line five times and didn’t get any points and got beat by seven,” he said. “At Briarcrest, we were down by a touchdown but didn’t execute.
“That’s helped our kids … motivated them to be better.”
MRA is led by senior quarterback Philip Short. Through 11 games, he completed 150 passes for 2,516 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Short has garnered much of this year’s attention, but Davis said other players also deserve credit, including receiver Tyler Starnes. Through 11 games the senior notched 35 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns.
“We knew that he was going to be a good player for us, but he’s had a great year,” Davis said.
Senior Russell Sceroler also stepped up, notching 661 receiving yards and five touchdowns through 11 games. “He had all the potential in the world to be pretty good. He needed to improve in the off season, and he did that,” Davis said.
Davis also credits seniors Logan Barber, Donovan Hasley and Brendan Butler plugging a major hole on defense.
“We lost three all-state players on defense. We were worried about how we would replace them,” he said. “These guys came in and have done a super job for us. I think going into the final game they had six more sacks than we had the whole last year, and a good many more tackles for losses.”
Prep head coach Ricky Black said his team also overachieved this year. “Going into the season, we had so many unanswered questions about what we could do on offense and defense,” he said. “Our juniors and sophomores have really come through and are giving us a good effort.”
The Prep Patriots entered the season with just 15 seniors, one of its smallest senior classes. By comparison, last year’s championship team boasted 35 seniors on its roster, including current Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy.
Junior running back Matt Jones filled in for Ealy nicely, rushing the ball for 1,135 yards and 22 touchdowns through 10 games.
“Last year he was a sophomore and he had a good year. He’s come through this year as a proven runner and pass receiver,” Black said.
The coach said he’s particularly pleased with the way his defense has played. “Holmes Maley and J.C. Polk. They’re both seniors and both have been starting for two years, but they’ve proven to be consistent all year long,” he said.
Polk has 13 tackles, 48 assists and 5.5 sacks through 10 games; Maley had eight tackles, 31 assists and five sacks through the same period.
He said junior linebacker Braeden Mabry and junior safety Seth Cook have also played well. “We have a lot of juniors and sophomores playing. They’ve been the key to our success, how quickly they have matured.”
Prep opened the season with a loss to Heritage Academy, and then won seven in a row before falling to Madison-Ridgeland. The following week, the Patriots just barely got by Parklane Academy to secure their eighth win.
That three-point decision was decided in double overtime.
“It’s been tough getting consistent play. That comes with experience,” said Black. “The biggest thing we want to do is make sure we can play the best we can every week. That’s the thing we look for.”
Jackson Academy (JA) has been no stranger to adversity this season, with the Raiders losing two of their top players before the season got started. And like Prep, JA came into the season with a smaller senior class – 14 or 15 seniors compared to the typical 18 to 19.
Even so, the Raiders have posted their fourth-straight winning record heading into the playoffs. “The kids played pretty hard and did well,” said head coach Larry Weems. “They guys accomplished some positive stuff.”
Weems said his team has improved as the season has progressed. After falling to Prep on October 4, the Raiders have won three in a row: a 41-12 win against East Rankin Academy, a 51-33 win over Presbyterian Christian Academy and a 23-7 win against Starkville Academy.
Having to replace their starting quarterback at the start of the season, JA has relied heavily on its running game. Sophomore Marcus Harris has led the ground attack, recording 1,184 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns through 10 games. He is followed by junior Parker Ryan, who had 377 yards and four touchdowns and senior William Janous, who had 254 yards and two touchdowns through the same period.
“Our offensive line has been really solid and have matured into a pretty good group,” Weems said. “I think we’re definitely better than we were at the beginning, but we still have a long way to go.”
Weems said the defense has also done a good job this year of creating turnovers.
He said the defense’s ability to make turnovers, as well as the running game, will be even more important in the playoffs. “Obviously, the playoffs are elimination. There is no tomorrow,” he said. “You better put your best foot forward, because if you don’t, there is no tomorrow.”