Running back A.J. Hasley eludes Bayou defenders.
Running back A.J. Hasley eludes Bayou defenders.
CLEVELAND – Rayf Vinson is MRA’s version of the Swiss Army Knife. Outside of the offensive and defensive lines, he’s played just about every position there is to be played on the football field. So much so, it’s actually easier to name the positions the Patriots’ do-it-all junior hasn’t played throughout his career.

“We use (Rayf) everywhere we can use him,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said.

Vinson’s versatility was on full display again Friday night as he accounted for three touchdowns – each from different positions – in MRA’s 47-6 shellacking of host Bayou Academy. One came on a scoop and score following a blocked punt, one came on a 13-yard run, and the other came on a 5-yard pass reception.

Interestingly enough, all three of Vinson’s touchdowns came in a seven-minute span in the first quarter, helping MRA establish its dominance over the Colts early on. The Patriots built a commanding 28-0 lead in the first quarter, led 41-0 at halftime, and coasted to their fifth consecutive lopsided victory.

Vinson likely would’ve added a fourth touchdown early in the second quarter if the pass from backup quarterback Clayton White had not been overthrown. He lined up in the slot along the 10-yard line and maneuvered his way wide open into the end zone only to have the ball sail a few feet over his head.

“It would’ve been nice to have that one, too. It’s all good, though,” Vinson said, smiling. “We got the win, that’s the most important thing.”

MRA improved to 5-0 heading into next week’s public vs. private showdown at Philadelphia High. The Patriots, winners of 17 of their last 18 games dating back to last season, have won their first five games this season by an average margin of 42 points. They haven’t truly been tested in other words. That figures to change next Friday night when Davis’ squad takes on Marcus Dupree’s alma mater.

Fortunately, Dupree’s eligibility has long since expired. He won’t be dressing out, but all-purpose Dandy Dozen Lideatrick ‘Tulu’ Griffin and the rest of the Tornadoes will be. Philadelphia will enter 3-1 following Friday’s 23-22 win over Noxubee County. That’s the same Noxubee County team which beat Louisville, which beat West Point, which beat Starkville.

Transitive property aside, MRA will face by far the best team it has played this season next Friday night. A trip to previously undefeated Briarcrest Christian follows the next week. It’s about to get real for the Patriots.

“No doubt,” Davis said. “It’s like I just told my guys, all these easy games are over with. It’s time to take it to the next level. We’ve got some big games coming, and it starts next Friday at Philadelphia. And anybody who knows anything about football understands what the Briarcrest game is going to be like. It will be good for us, though. We need to get tested. It will be interesting. All over the state, I think everybody is ready to see next week’s score.”

Said MRA defensive end Brendan Butler: “Philadelphia will be a big game for us. They have a lot of big-time players. We’ve been looking forward to that matchup to see how we do against them.”

Win or lose, good showing or not, Vinson figures to be a factor somehow, someway. The 6-0, 180-pound play-maker has now scored two touchdowns on special teams this season to go along with one defensive touchdown and four touchdowns on offense (three rushing, one receiving). He’s lined up at safety, receiver, running back and wildcat quarterback along with all of his duties on special teams.

“Just wherever the team needs me,” he said.

Vinson is indeed the ultimate utility player. No. 2, with his cluster of skills, can be used in a variety of situations and perform a number of different roles making him an invaluable part of the team. There aren’t many players who can actually profess to being a Jack-of-all-trades. Vinson can, however. Not only is he versatile, he’s highly effective wherever he lines up.

Vinson kept popping up like those pesky mosquitoes here in the Mississippi Delta Friday night – early and often. His 17-yard run helped set up MRA’s first touchdown – a 3-yard pass from quarterback Philip Short to Joe Perkins. A couple of minutes later, he scooped up a blocked punt (by Drew Horton) and scored that way for the second time this season to make it 14-0. He capped the Patriots’ next scoring drive with a 13-yard touchdown run making it 21-0, then just before the end of the quarter he reeled in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Short extending the lead to 28-0.

Not a bad night at the office, especially considering he only played a quarter plus a few more snaps. Vinson, along with most of the other starters, once again sat out the majority of the game with MRA comfortably in command. That has been the norm up to this point this season, which works out well for Vinson.

“I do sometimes,” responded Vinson, when asked if he ever gets tired. “I train, I work hard for this, though.”

The versatility card has always been in Vinson’s toolbox, although he seemingly adds a new position with each passing week. His speed, agility, good hands and overall football instincts make him a nice fit in Davis’ up-tempo offensive attack and defensive coordinator Danny White’s aggressive defensive scheme. Not to mention special teams.

Vinson’s role on offense has increased with the loss of running back Tyler Latham, who was being utilized as part of a nice 1-2 punch along with A.J. Hasley before going down with a knee injury early in the Jackson Academy game a week ago. That’s been especially true when the Patriots have neared the end zone. “He has a knack for scoring,” Davis said.

Apparently, that knack for scoring doesn’t apply to offense only. A week ago, Vinson returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown in the 48-7 victory over JA. His counterpart Sam Polles went up high to snag an interception Friday and turned it into a 15-yard touchdown, marking the third straight week the Patriots have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Here’s an interesting stat for you: MRA’s defense/special teams have actually outscored the Patriots’ opponents 39-29 this season. MRA’s first-team defense, in fact, has allowed only one touchdown all season. Bayou’s lone touchdown on this night came with just under five minutes remaining in the game against the Patriots’ reserves.

White’s crew has been downright defensive this season, allowing only 5.8 points and 119.2 yards per game. The Patriots have forced nine turnovers (five fumbles, four interceptions), giving them a total of 88 turnovers since White arrived four years ago. Those nine turnovers have led to 55 points.

“It’s a lot of fun playing defense for Coach White,” Vinson said. “All the crazy schemes and blitzes he does allows us to go full speed to the ball every play. It’s awesome.”

MRA lost a lot of star power off last year’s top-tier defense, leading to some uncertainty surrounding this year’s unit prior to the start of the season. However, guys like Logan Barber, Donovan Hasley and Butler have stepped up big-time along the defensive front. Newcomer Willie Latham has been a welcome addition at linebacker along with Drew Horton, who is filling in for the injured Stone Blanton. And Colorado commit Joe Perkins and Vinson have helped solidify the secondary. The emergence of Polles has been a pleasant surprise, as well. MRA also welcomed the return of cornerback Hayes Puckett, who made his first appearance Friday after sustaining an injury in the preseason.

“This group has done a good job of being disciplined,” White said. “It’s like I tell my guys all the time it’s about fitting the puzzle, being where they’re supposed to be. We’re not as a big as we were last year, but we’ve got pretty good speed. We’re blitzing more.”

MRA’s defense has 45 tackles for loss and 16 sacks.

“Fast, physical ball hawks . . . that’s what we’re looking for,” Perkins said.

Having an experienced play-caller like White is certainly a plus. He’s in his 20th year of coaching, having spent most of those years at the collegiate level. Going up against the Patriots’ high-scoring offense in practice on a daily basis also helps.

“They whip up on us every day,” Davis said. “We can’t block them.”

MRA’s latest win came with yet another setback. Backup linebacker Bennett Cloud, a promising sophomore who intercepted a pass in the second quarter setting up a touchdown, sustained a broken collarbone, adding another name to the Patriots’ ever-growing injury list.

“That’s not good, I hate that for Bennett,” Davis said.

Bennett’s injury came just minutes after an injury scare befitting Friday the 13th. Rolling to his left after being flushed from the pocket, Short was tackled hard along the MRA sideline. One of the referees fell directly on Short as both slid along the ground and into one of the yardage markers being held by a member of the chain gang. Short immediately grabbed the back of one of his legs near the knee area and squirmed in pain. He eventually got up, however, and returned for one drive later in the half. Short was noticeably limping as he trotted off the field once handing off to A.J. Hasley for a 12-yard touchdown run. He didn’t return.

Short finished with 166 yards and two touchdowns, completing 10 of 14 pass attempts. He now has 48 career passing touchdowns in 18 starts at MRA, tying the school record in that statistical category. More importantly, it appears as if Short is okay and will be ready to go next week.

“I think he just tweaked it a little bit,” Davis said. “He’s going to be fine.”