MRA heading to state championship


MADISON – Jude Aldridge is one heckuva football player. His acting skills could use a little work, though.

Late in the first half of Friday night’s MAIS Class 6A semifinal, MRA’s standout defensive lineman found himself on the not-so-friendly end of some friendly fire. A little dazed and woozy – but truly okay – he was instructed by one of his coaches to fall to the ground instead of risking getting off the field in time. He wasn’t faking an injury, mind you, just trying to avoid a penalty.

Let’s just say Aldridge took it a tad bit over-the-top.

“Was that too dramatic,” Aldridge said, with a big grin on his face as trainers escorted him toward the sideline.

That was about the only drama on this mid-November night at Patriot Field, and it wasn’t real drama despite the hilarious sell job. After a somewhat spooky Friday the 13th in the year 2020 kind of start for the home team, heavily-favored MRA rolled to a never-in-doubt 42-14 victory over PCS and star running back Marquis Crosby to earn a spot in next Saturday’s 6A state championship game.

The reigning 6A state champion Patriots, 11-0, will square off with Jackson Academy. The Raiders, 10-3, surprised Jackson Prep 28-21 in the other 6A semifinal at Flowood, rallying from a 21-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

“I didn’t care which one we played, I just wanted to play one of them again,” said MRA quarterback Zach Beasley, who threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns – all in the first half. “I’ve never played in a championship game before, so I’m looking forward to it. It feels good.”

MRA will carry an 18-game winning streak into Saturday’s 1:15 title game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Patriots, winners of 22 straight at home, have won 30 of their last 31 games against MAIS competition and 35 of their last 38 overall. Coach Herbert Davis’ squad will by vying for a second straight state championship and fourth in program history.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Davis said. “It has been a great year, we’ve just got to finish. We started out slow tonight, but we got it going. We moved the ball well on offense, our defense played well outside of a couple of busted coverages, and we were good on special teams for the most part. It was a good, solid performance, but we will have to play better next week if we’re going to win another championship. We’ve got some things we need to clean up.”

MRA cleaned up on PCS for the second time in the past few weeks, scoring touchdowns on six consecutive possessions to take a commanding 42-7 halftime lead. Beasley threw a pair of touchdown passes to Davis Dalton (89, 18), one to Trey Zito (30), and another to Rayf Vinson (28). Vinson also added a touchdown run (3), as did Tylor Latham (49) – all in the first 24 minutes.

The Patriots’ defense turned in a momentum-flipping goal line stand early in the game and came away with three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception – leading directly to three touchdowns during the first half onslaught.

“We just stuck to our game plan and did the best we could against him,” Vinson said. “I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part.”

Vinson, a Navy commit and MRA’s most versatile player, turned in an outstanding performance in his last home game. Not only did he score a pair of touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving – he also recovered a fumble and had a highlight-worthy interception. He had seven carries for 52 yards and two catches for 60 yards, rarely coming out of the game in the first half while pulling additional duty this week. Vinson filled in at the Tiger position on defense for the injured Hayes Puckett.

After going three-and-out on its opening drive, MRA was forced to punt. The snap sailed over the head of Dalton, handing the ball over to PCS at the Patriots’ 19-yard line. Nine plays and three penalties later, Crosby was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Four plays later, Dalton hauled in a 89-yard touchdown pass from Beasley, making a Willie Mays-esque over the shoulder grab before racing his way into the end zone.

It was all MRA from that point on.

“That entire sequence was huge for us, first the goal line stand then the long touchdown pass,” Davis said. “That really settled us down a little bit, and made a huge statement.”

Said Sam Polles: “That was big. We came out not looking so hot . . . we had a bad snap on a punt. Our defense has been unbelievable all year, though. We never doubted ourselves. They were inside our 20 to start the drive, but we were able to come up with the stop. It really changed the momentum.”

Davis finished with 8 catches for 168 yards. His second touchdown grab came with three seconds remaining in the half, just 47 seconds after Crosby’s scoring run. MRA drove from its own 35-yard line and scored on the sixth play of the drive as Dalton “Mossed” a would-be PCS defender in the end zone, high-pointing a 19-yard scoring pass from Beasley.

MRA had five explosive plays (20 yards or more), giving it 66 such plays this season. The Patriots scored 28 points in the second quarter for the second straight week. 

Davis knows it won’t be easy. JA will be looking to avenge a 20-10 loss to MRA way back on Sept. 4 in Jackson. And the Raiders, looking for their first state championship since 2011, come in with a lot of momentum having won six straight.

“JA has a really good football team, and they’ve gotten better as the year has gone along,” Davis said. “We only beat them by 10 when we played them the first time, so we’re going to have to play well. We’ve got to go in and do what we do, play our game and execute. We’ve got good players, they’ve just got to make plays.”

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