MRA’s Philip Short makes a Pillow defender miss.
MRA’s Philip Short makes a Pillow defender miss.
MADISON – One basically had to watch only two plays to know how Friday night’s MRA-Pillow game went.

Early in the third quarter, seemingly half of MRA’s defensive players engulfed Pillow’s offensive line and piled onto quarterback Shane Houston Stephens, driving him hard into the turf at Patriot Field for a big loss. On the very next play, MRA running back William Milam took it to the house from 57 yards out.

Those back-to-back plays – one on offense, the other on defense - pretty much encapsulated the entire game as the Patriots coasted to an easy-as-it-sounds 45-6 victory over the Mustangs in their home opener.

Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. There was no disputing which team was which on this night, as MRA dominated from start to finish. The Patriots scored on their first five possessions in building a 31-0 halftime lead and never looked back, posting their second consecutive blowout win to start the season.

“We pretty much whipped them,” Shufelt said matter-of-factly.

Two years ago on this very same field, MRA built a huge halftime lead only to see Pillow come back and make a game of it in the second half. There was no such comeback in the cards on this night. Milam’s aforementioned lengthy touchdown run pushed the Patriots lead to 38-0, setting off a running clock for the remainder of the game. The Mustangs did manage a touchdown late in the game against MRA’s reserves, but it was a case of too little, too late for the out-manned visitors from Greenwood.

MRA defensive coordinator Danny White reminded his unit of that very game during his halftime speech.

“I’m glad we didn’t have to go through that again,” he said. “That was no fun.”

MRA defensive end John Cartwright, for one, took offense to some things that were said during the week via social media. “(Pillow) was talking noise all week, then before the game they come out to our 50-yard line and broke it down . . . they obviously didn’t know who they were coming to,” he said.

He paused for a moment, then added: “I felt like we didn’t play up to our potential last week, tonight I thought we did.”

MRA cruised to a 38-10 victory over Magnolia Heights a week ago in Senatobia to open the season. Despite the lopsided victory, the Patriots looked sloppy at times, committing 18 penalties covering 170 yards. They also didn’t establish the running game as well as they would’ve liked behind an offensive line breaking in three new starters.

Head coach Herbert Davis’ team showed marked improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, as most good teams do.

Operating with a revamped offensive line (Logan Barber was inserted at center, moving Nick Rowan to right tackle), MRA totaled 384 yards of total offense – 202 passing, 182 rushing – and was penalized just twice for 10 yards. While those numbers are similar to last week, they are also somewhat skewed considering the Patriots only ran five offensive plays in the second half.

Defensively, MRA limited Pillow to 221 total net yards – 151 rushing, 70 passing – 72 (all rushing) of which came on the Mustangs final 17-play, 72-yard drive that started near the end of the third quarter and ended in the waning seconds of the game. White’s crew also came away with three turnovers – two interceptions and one fumble recovery. In one sequence, Rayf Vinson recovered a fumble on defense and then on the very next play reeled in a 24-yard touchdown reception. Cody Swanson nearly had a lengthy Pick 6, but the officials ruled he stepped out of bounds en route to the end zone.

No doubt, it was a much cleaner performance than a week ago.

“I thought we improved in a lot of different areas tonight, especially on the offensive line,” Davis said. “We’re still learning some things on offense, and I feel like we’ve got to gain more confidence in what we’re doing, but we executed better tonight than we did last week. Overall, I thought we came out and played with a business-like attitude. We did a good job of coming out and just playing, not overlooking anybody, just coming out and playing ball and enjoying the game.”

Quarterback Philip Short, a newcomer making his home debut, completed 10-of-14 passes for 150 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes. One of those – a 48-yarder to Justin Williams came on the fifth play of the game. The other was to Vinson late in the second quarter. Milam finished with 100 yards on 10 carries and the one touchdown run. He also caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Pierce Smith – the second week in a row in which that tandem has hooked up.

Ridge Futral, who like many of the Patriots plays both ways, had touchdown runs of 31 and 22 yards. Meanwhile, Short and Smith combined to complete passes to nine different receivers.

“The running game improved tonight,” said Milam, who has accounted for five touchdowns combined in MRA’s first two games. “We were able to get me out in space more, and that’s where I’m at my best. Overall, we improved a bunch from last week. We were more disciplined and more focused this week.”

Added Shufelt: “We didn’t play all that great last week. We’ve been working real hard in practice to correct that. We also talked all week about not playing down to our competition. There’s still some things we need to correct . . . there’s always room for improvement. Otherwise, I thought we played pretty decent.”

Playing down to the competition certainly won’t be a concern next week. Hardly.

“(Briarcrest) is the best team on our schedule,” Davis said. “They went 11-2 last year, and they are picked to win the Tennessee league this year. They’ve got about six Division I players, so they are going to come in here loaded. It’s going to be a big-time challenge for us. But that’s what we want. We want to play really good teams like Briarcrest to help us prepare for playing for a championship later on.”