History will be made this Saturday afternoon at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium as Madison Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Academy meet in the MAIS 6A State Championship. For the Patriots, it’s a chance to bring home back-to-back championship trophies for the first time in school history. For the Raiders, it’s an opportunity to return to historic glory. JA has not won a state title since 2011.
Jackson Academy pulled out an absolutely nail-biting shocker on the road at Jackson Prep in the semi-finals. with a 28-21 win in the last minute. Quarterback Jackson Conn connected with sophomore Dan Smith on a 37-yard touchdown strike with just 47 seconds left in the game to give the Raiders the only lead they would need all night. The pass capped a comeback that started with JA down 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Ladarius Webb had a 40 yard touchdown catch, running back phenom Marcus Harris scored on a 75 yard run,and Webb came up with a late interception that set up the game winning drive. The JA defense completely shut down Prep in the second half on its own field to break a 12 game losing streak in the rivalry.
Raiders Head Coach Lance Pogue, who coached numerous big games and state championships while at South Panola, was truly in awe talking with his team after the game. “What you did in that second half, you didn’t flinch. Nothing went our way early. When it looked bad, you didn’t flinch,” said Pogue. “I don’t know in my time if I’ve ever been more proud of a bunch of guys. This is something you will always remember because of the way you won.”
Things were not nearly as exciting and a bit more expected for MRA. Head Coach Herbert Davis and the Patriots come in ranked #1 with an 11-0 record. They’re actually riding an 18 game winning streak dating back to last season. MRA trounced Presbyterian Christian School in the semi-finals 42-14. The Patriots jumped out to a 42-0 lead at halftime and basically rested the starters after that.
Quarterback Zach Beasley threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Davis Dalton caught eight of those passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Dalton dashed 89 yards on one of the scores. Senior Rayf Vinson scored twice, one rushing, the other receiving. Running Back Tylor Latham also scored on a nifty 49-yard run.
While the M-Pats have made the road look easy thus far, Coach Herbert Davis wants to keep his foot on the gas. “We’ve got to go in and do what we do, play our game and execute,” said Davis in a postgame interview with the school’s Patriot Recap. “We’ve got good players, they’ve just got to make plays.”
It’s hard to imagine Saturday’s game will be anything like the low scoring first match-up between these two teams back on September 4. The Patriots prevailed 20-10 behind two touchdowns from Rayf Vinson. The Raider defense though, led by nose guard Ethan Archie (14 tackles), linebacker Donovan Veasley (13 tackles) and defensive end Max Walenta (10 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss), did a tremendous job holding the strong armed quarterback Zach Beasley to just 106 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception.
Beasley, a senior transfer from Northwest Rankin, certainly took off after the tough outing throwing for nearly 2,300 yards, 26 touchdowns and just four interceptions the rest of the way. Another piece that was missing the first time around, was MRA’s leading receiver in senior Davis Dalton. Dalton sat out the game due to illness but is ready to roll now. He’s recorded 38 catches for 841 yards and a team leading 14 touchdown receptions.
Meanwhile, the Patriots defense completely stymied the Raiders back in September, holding them to a mere 142 yards of total offense. Running back Marcus Harris had just 44 yards on 16 carries. Linebacker Stone Blanton was a one man-wrecking crew with 14 tackles. Rayf Vinson was flying to the football as well with 13 tackles, three for loss. With as well as JA is playing right now, it may be nearly impossible to repeat that feat on Harris. The junior has rolled up an amazing 1,452 yards on 210 carries and scored 23 touchdowns so far the rest of the season.
MRA was expected to be here to defend its state title. Jackson Academy knows it’s the underdog that nobody thought would be here. Coach Pogue sounds as though he wants his players to relish the role.
“There’s one more game,” said Pogue last Friday night. “No one is going to give us a chance and we are going to just close our mouth, go to work and prepare and give it a shot. They (MRA) have a really good football team, but they are gonna have to beat us to get it.”
On the other side Coach Davis is building a championship culture on Old Canton Road and knows this game would solidify the foundation.
Will it be a return to glory for JA? Will it be back-to-back for the M-Pats? Making history sure is fun.
JA’s Keys to Victory
Offensively, control the clock: The Raiders offensive line has been great since the first meeting. Marcus Harris will undoubtedly run for more than 44 yards this time around. The question is, can he get close to his average of 120, or perhaps 200. He’s coming off a huge performance against Prep’s D. Quarterback Jackson Conn will have a shot at hitting some big plays and wideout Dan Smith can make them. The ultimate key is to not turn the ball over. Time of possession is always very important, but JA needs to keep the ball away from MRA.
Defensively, pressure...: MRA quarterback Zac Beasley has been a beast with lots of weapons. It will be up to the big boys Ethan Archie, Donovan Veasley and Max Walenta to get pressure and make Beasley uncomfortable. Beasley was held to just 106 yards the first time, but has gotten significantly better.
MRA’s Keys to Victory
Offensively, mix it up and light it up: MRA does not lack weapons anywhere. The running game is often overlooked as a strength of the offense. Tylor Latham and Rayf Vinson have combined to rush for nearly 1,300 yards. The better they run, the bigger plays open up for Beasley to throw. Dalton leads a slew of talented receivers that are quick and sure handed.
Defensively, force the pass: If the defense can stack the line and slow Harris down, that would put the onus on the passing game to beat them. This group did an unbelievable job in the first game with the blitz and we’d expect a lot of the same this time around. The Pats defense is a tackling machine with 67 tackles for loss on the year.