MRA’s Drew Horton drew a surprise start at running back and had one rushing TD.
MRA’s Drew Horton drew a surprise start at running back and had one rushing TD.
Perhaps MRA was overlooking Hartfield and peeking ahead to this week’s showdown against Jackson Prep. Perhaps the Patriots weren’t all that fired up about the wet, muddy conditions. Perhaps they were just in the need of a Snickers. Who knows?

Whatever the case, MRA head coach Herbert Davis wasn’t too happy about the vibe his football team was letting off late in the first quarter here on a rain-soaked Friday night. So, after watching his special teams allow a game-tying punt return touchdown, Davis gathered the troops along the visitors’ sideline for an impromptu, hmm let’s go with pep talk. Yeah, that’s it, a pep talk.

“Let’s just say he was motivating us,” said MRA senior wideout Russ Sceroler, with a wry smile.

Davis basically told his team to get their act together and play like they know how to play. Message sent, message heard. MRA rattled off 34 unanswered points over the next 16-plus minutes and eventually waddled away with a 47-10 victory.

“I just told them we needed to pick it up a level,” Davis said. “I was hoping they would respond well to it, and they did. After the slow start, we started executing better, we played with more physicality, and we started making plays.”

The physicality came in the form of a newfound running game that churned out a season-high 193 yards on a season-high 41 carries. That number would’ve eclipsed 200 yards had it not been for a high snap that resulted in a 26-yard loss. It also came in the form of a hard-hitting, opportunistic defense that forced a pair of turnovers, scored one touchdown and limited Hartfield to 86 total net yards. The Hawks’ offense mustered only three points – a 27-yard field goal following an interception that gave Hartfield the ball at the MRA 13-yard line.

MRA improved to 7-2 entering Friday’s game at Jackson Prep. The Patriots started the season with five straight wins, then lost back-to-back games before rebounding with two straight wins.

 Hartfield dropped to 6-2 with both losses coming against MSAIS 6A competition. The Patriots have won three straight over the Hawks by a combined score of 136-24.

MRA used a running back by committee approach against Hartfield, somewhat surprisingly utilizing seldom-used bigger backs Drew Horton (9 carries, 57 yards), Stone Blanton (4 carries, 12 yards) and Willie Latham (2 carries, 27 yards) along with smaller, shiftier backs A.J. Hasley (6 carries, 23 yards), Trey Zito (7 carries, 32 yards) and Hatcher Swanson (10 carries, 72 yards). Horton, who drew the start, had only three carries on the season coming in. Latham had two, Blanton none.

“Right before we ran out for the game the coaches called me over and told me I was getting the start,” Horton said. “I was pretty surprised, but I was fired up. We have been trying to establish our running game, and Coach Davis wanted a back that would get more downhill so he gave me a shot. Personally, I love running the ball. I feel like I can help the team out a lot with the ball in my hands.”

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior certainly did Friday, giving MRA a more physical presence in the backfield similar to what Ridge Futral brought to the table a year ago. The same can be said for Blanton (6-2, 210) and Latham (5-11, 218). Each had a touchdown run on Friday, a first for all three this season.

MRA will take a significant step up in competition this week as it takes on rival Jackson Prep in a highly-anticipated matchup on Lakeland Dr. Prep enters 7-1 and winners of seven straight following a 24-15 season-opening loss at Heritage. The Patriots no longer have Jerrion Ealy, but they do have Matt Jones, who has rushed for 1,010 yards and 19 touchdowns. “We’ve got to find a way to stop him, and we’ve got to find a way to run the ball effectively ourselves,” Davis said. “It’s going to come down to blocking and tackling. If we can block them, I think we have a chance to do some things on offense. But, if we can’t, there’s not a whole lot you can do on your back. They’re going to stunt, and twist and blitz like they always do.”

MRA and Prep split a year ago, with MRA winning 42-21 in the regular season and Prep winning 33-27 in the championship game. Prep has won 15 of the last 16 in the series, including 14 straight prior to MRA’s win in Madison last year. Prep has won seven consecutive State championships and has won 70 of its last 75 games, including an impressive 28-0 win over Taylorsville earlier this season.

“Prep is good, they always are,” Davis said. “We’re going to have to execute and not make mistakes, and hopefully force them into a few. We can’t afford to make mistakes and expect to beat them.”