Madison-Ridgeland Academy tailback/cornerback Tyler Latham carries the ball on one of his two touchdown runs in Friday’s blowout win over.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy tailback/cornerback Tyler Latham carries the ball on one of his two touchdown runs in Friday’s blowout win over.
Justin Williams suffered a jaw injury in last week’s home opener and wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to play Friday night.

Not only did he play, he started. On offense and defense. Even better, the senior wide receiver-now-slash-cornerback, picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown in MRA’s ho-hum 49-3 victory over Copiah at Patriot Field.

Williams’ 65-yard interception return in the second quarter was one of many highlights for the Patriots, who won in blowout fashion for the third consecutive week to improve to 3-0 entering next week’s showdown against rival Jackson Academy.

“(My jaw) didn’t feel very good, especially early in the week,” said Williams, who was making his first career start on defense. “I went to the doctor on Monday and got X-rays done. He said if I could play through the pain I could play.”

Williams sat out of practice Monday and Tuesday before returning on Wednesday. Starting cornerback Cam Covey, who was starting in the place of one of the Patriots’ already-injured projected starting cornerback duo of Drew Peacock and Hayes Puckett, was injured during Thursday’s practice, necessitating the decision to move Williams into that spot. 

“I definitely like scoring on offense better,” Williams said with a big smile. “But hey, I’ll take it.”

His pick-six came five minutes into the second quarter with MRA already leading 26-0 following touchdown drives on its opening four possessions. Copiah quarterback Eli McCrory, who was in survival mode most of the night against a swarming Patriots’ defense, threw a pass out in the flat to a would-be receiver. As the ball arrived, so too did MRA linebacker Willie Latham, who delivered a huge hit. The ball popped up in the air and into the waiting arms of Williams, who displaying the hands and speed that make him one of the Patriots’ top receivers, raced 65 yards down the home sideline.

Williams also caught a pair of passes on the Patriots’ initial scoring drive, had a nice punt return deep into Copiah territory setting up the second of A.J. Hasley’s two touchdown runs, and also had a key block to help spring Hasley loose on his 52-yard touchdown reception. The majority of the Patriots’ starters, sat out the second half for the third consecutive week with MRA comfortably ahead at halftime.

“Coach White called a perfect scheme, and it worked out just like he thought it would,” Williams said. “Willie made a big hit, the ball popped out of the receivers hands into mine and I just took off running.”

Speaking of running, MRA did a lot more of it Friday night than it had the past two weeks. Quarterback Phillip Short torched opposing defenses through the air early and often in the first two games, but he gave way in large part to the running game on this night. The Patriots ran the ball a season-high 19 times in the first half for 147 yards. Hasley, in his first year as a starter, was the major beneficiary, toting the ball seven times for 89 yards, including a 62-yard scoring scamper midway through the first quarter. Nine of the Patriots’ first 12 snaps were running plays. A week ago, MRA passed the ball on 10 of its first 12 plays to open the game, running only twice.

Tyler Latham scored on a pair of short touchdown runs, and receiver/safety Rayf Vinson was also featured some in the backfield, tallying the first rushing touchdown of his career albeit out of the wildcat formation. Interestingly enough, Vinson now has two career touchdown receptions, one rushing one, one on an interception and one via a blocked punt.

“I wanted to come out and run it tonight,” said MRA head coach Herbert Davis, whose team has now won 15 of its last 16 games dating back to last season. “We’ve been working really hard on the passing game, and we’ve had a lot of success there. We felt like we needed to hammer it home tonight with our run game and make sure we can get that part of our offense down a little better going into next week against JA.”