SENATOBIA - The quick toss from Philip Short to Pierce Smith was spot on, same for Smith’s downfield pass to William Milam. All that was left was for Milam, who was streaking wide open down the middle of the field, to catch the perfectly thrown, high-arcing football.

He did, putting the finishing touches on a well-timed 41-yard double-pass touchdown late in the second quarter and helping catapult MRA to a penalty-plagued 38-10 season-opening victory over Magnolia Heights here on Friday night at James E. Cahill Field.

The Patriots pulled off the play with relative ease, even though Milam, a senior running back, had his doubts as he looked back and up into the air over his right shoulder. He initially lined up in the backfield while Pierce, a quarterback by trade, was lined up on the outside as a receiver.

“It felt like the ball was in the air for 30 seconds,” he said, with a grin. “I almost dropped it. . . the ball almost bounced off my helmet. I’m just glad I caught it. It’s a play we’ve worked on a lot in practice. It’s usually open in practice, and it was open again tonight.”

The successful trick play came during a game-altering 21-point scoring spree by the Patriots over the final six minutes, 26 seconds of the first half that broke open a previously tied game. MRA scored on its fourth offensive play of the season as Milam hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Short. Magnolia Heights answered with a touchdown on its next possession to make it 7-7. That’s where things stood midway through the second quarter when Short and Co. made short work of the Chiefs’ defense with three quick-strike touchdowns to close the half.

A 25-yard pass from Short to Russ Sceroler set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Milam. The Patriots scored on the aforementioned trick play four minutes later, and then with just 20.9 seconds left before intermission, Short connected with two-way standout Joe Perkins on a 39-yard scoring strike. In about the same amount of real time it takes to change classes between periods during a normal school day, MRA led 28-7 and for all intents and purposes the game was over.

“That stretch was certainly big for us, “Short said. “We made some adjustments, came back and fixed some mistakes, and took off from there. We had some first game jitters early on, but we found a way to win.”

MRA found a way to win despite being flagged for an eye-popping 18 penalties, a couple of which nullified touchdowns. In all, the Patriots were penalized 170 yards - seven more than the Patriots’ offense totaled in the second half with the game well in hand. Offensive holding was the culprit on several occasions. Meanwhile, Magnolia Heights was flagged only four times.

”Sloppy,” is the way MRA head coach Herbert Davis described the game. “We did some good things, but we had way too many penalties. That’s got to change. Good teams don’t beat themselves the way we did tonight. We’ve got some film to watch, and some things we’ve got to clean up.”

Milam figures to be the feature running back this season after being sidelined the second half of last season with a back injury. When healthy, he rushed for 456 yards and six touchdowns while splitting time with the now-departed Jake Reeves, who went on to shatter the school single-season rushing record a year ago. He also caught three passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Milam flashed that versatility on Friday night in the first game of what he hopes is a big senior season, accounting for 118 yards from scrimmage (12 carries, 65 yards - 2 catches, 53 yards) and three touchdowns while also handling kickoff and punt returns.

Milam escaped surgery, but he did have to wear a brace on his back for four months before returning to the point of near normalcy.

“It felt good to be back out there tonight,” Milam said. “My back is kind of tight, but a lot of the pain is gone. I felt really loose and good tonight.”

Davis, for one, is glad to have Milam back in the fold.

“He had a good night for us,” Davis said. “He’s a good one. He’s a tough matchup for linebackers because of his ability to play outside. He made a great catch on the first touchdown. Hopefully, he makes a lot more of those plays this year.”

Short, who completed 10-of-17 passes for 181 yards including a pair of touchdown passes in his MRA debut, concurs.

“Milam is so fast and so elusive, and he’s really good in space,” Short said. “I’m expecting him to have a big year.”

MRA’s new-look offense, featuring a new quarterback in Short, three new offensive linemen and a relatively new receiving corp, opened with a 38-point debut. The Patriots totaled 397 yards – 239 passing, 158 rushing – with 234 coming in the first half. Short’s tuck-and-run 13-yard touchdown scamper and Carson Lindsay’s 27-yard field goal accounted for MRA’s 10 second-half points. Perkins finished with three catches for 83 yards and the one touchdown, while Justin Williams had two catches for 54 yards.

The Patriots turned the ball over only once.

“We didn’t protect well early on, but we got better as the game went on,” Davis said. “I thought Philip had a good night for his first night, and our receivers did a good job, too. We fought long yardage all night long because of all the penalties. We overcame some of it, but when you have that many it makes it tough.”

After posting the early touchdown, Magnolia Heights managed only three points the rest of the night – a 42-yard field goal by Josh Tyson early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ defense, which figures to be leaned on heavily this year, limited the Chiefs to 196 net yards (105 passing, 91 rushing) and came away with two interceptions. Defensive end John Cartwright had one as did safety Rayf Vinson. Linebacker Bryce Ishee tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage setting up Cartwright’s pick.

MRA has now recorded 50 turnovers in the past two-plus seasons under defensive coordinator Danny White.

The Patriots were without the services of starting linebacker Stone Blanton, who is expected to miss three more games after suffering a tendon injury in his hand. Blanton started a year ago as an eighth-grader, and already has an offer from Florida Atlantic.

“I thought we could’ve been a little more physical on defense, and our communication needs to be better, but overall I thought we played pretty well,” Perkins said.

Said Davis: “They did some things to us early, but we adjusted and did a little better with it after that. We blew some assignments on defense. . . we’ve got to fix those by next week.”

MRA opens the home portion of its schedule next Friday against Pillow. The Mustangs lost to Indianola 33-12 in their season opener. It marks the first of six home games for the Patriots over the course of the next eight weeks.

“We’ve got a really good home schedule this year,” Davis said. “We’re looking forward to getting it started next week.”