MRA Patriots blank Bayou Academy 35-0
MADISON – Most of the buzz before and after MRA’s season-opening upset win over Trinity Christian centered around Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
Triston Hayles’ return home drew a lot of attention in a Week 2 blowout at Copiah.
And who couldn’t help but be touched by the poignant, real-life moment that Patriots’ offensive line coach Kenny Williams experienced a week ago following a hard-fought win at Jackson Academy.
The storyline for Week 4? Let’s take a look see at the passing game, which is exactly what MRA head coach Herbert Davis decided to do against an out-manned Bayou Academy squad here Friday night at Patriot Field. The Patriots chunked it a season-high 46 times in a 35-0 snoozefest, including an eye-popping 38 times in the first half.
That’s just four less passes than MRA had attempted in its first three games combined. The fact that Bruce Campbell Field is right across Old Canton Road only seemed apprapo as Davis and Co. were indeed frequent flyers on this night.
Quarterback Zach Beasley, a senior transfer from Northwest Rankin making his fourth start in a MRA uniform, threw the football early and often against the Colts, despite the absence of top receiver Davis Dalton (illness) for a second straight game. The vetting produced uneven results as Beasley and backup quarterback McKinnley Woodward combined to complete just 17 of 46 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
“We could’ve run the ball more tonight, but at some point this year we know we are going to have to throw it,” said Davis, who earned the 200th victory of his coaching career. “So we thought we would come out tonight and throw it around a little bit, and work on our passing game. As you can see, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Consistency is what we need there.”
MRA led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 35-0 at halftime en route to their second consecutive blowout in as many years over Bayou, which entered undefeated at 3-0. The game essentially turned into a glorified 7-on-7 affair for the home team with Beasley holding an open audition alongside his receiving corps. He looked sharp early on, completing his first four passes and five of his first six, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Street Toler on MRA’s first possession to give the Patriots an early 7-0 lead. However, Beasley completed just one of his next 14 passes, the lone completion coming to tight end Pax Hughes.
That was followed by another stretch of four straight completions, and five of six. And so it went, as a little success was sprinkled in with several dropped balls and errant passes. Beasley had completions of 33, 41, 25 and 33 yards and connected with seven different receivers.
“It’s just a matter of me and the receivers working together more, and developing the chemistry we need to have,” Beasley said. “There were some drops tonight, but I made some bad throws, too. It was a combination of both.”
Toler, a junior receiver, hauled in a career-high six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. The other – a 33-yarder – came late in the second quarter giving MRA a 35-0 lead. Coincidentally, all three of Toler's career touchdown receptions have come against Bayou.
Hughes, a sophomore, finished with four catches for 58 yards. Beasley’s other touchdown pass went to Sam Polles, a 25-yarder just minutes before Toler’s second scoring reception.
“I thought Street was a bright spot tonight,” Davis said. “He had a great night, so that was a positive. I thought he played well. He’s been performing well in practice, and that carried over into tonight’s game. That was good to see. I’m very proud of him.”
In its first three games, MRA turned to the running game nearly twice as much (99 rushes vs. 50 passes) and has had success doing so. The Patriots came in averaging 209 yards rushing, including a dominant 248-yard performance in last week’s 20-10 victory at Jackson Academy. That should come as little surprise as Davis lost the best quarterback in school history along with the top five receivers to graduation after capturing the MAIS Class 6A State Championship a year ago.
However, Friday night’s game was all about the passing game - although MRA did finish with an oh-by-the-way 117 yards on 18 rushing attempts. Senior running back Rayf Vinson, a Navy commit, raced 44 yards for a score late in the first quarter – his team-leading seventh of the season. A few minutes later, sophomore J.J. Latham scored on a 7-yard run to make it 21-0.
“We’ve got a big offensive line, and they’ve been doing a good job so far this season so we’ve been able to run the ball well,” Toler said. “Tonight, I just think Coach Davis wanted to work on our passing game, and kind of see where it was. There was some good and bad. Zach made some bad throws, but at the same time we dropped too many passes. It’s something we’ve got to continue to work on together and get better. Getting Davis (Dalton) back next week will help, too.”
MRA improved to 4-0 heading into next week’s home game vs. MHSAA Class 2A Philadelphia High. The Patriots have won 11 straight dating back to last season and 28 of their last 31 games over the past three seasons, including 24 of their last 25 against MAIS competition.
One of those losses came a year ago at Philadelphia. The Tornadoes beat the Patriots 21-14 at Philly, a game in which MRA squandered several early scoring opportunities and gave up a long touchdown pass on a busted coverage late in defeat.
“I haven’t had a chance to watch (Philly) much on film, at least not like my assistant coaches, but I know they’re going to bring an athletic bunch in here next Friday night and we’re going to have to be ready to play,” Davis said. “They’re always fast, I know that.”
MRA’s hard-hitting defense was ready to play again this week. While the Patriots’ offense was experimenting with the passing game, Danny White’s gang was splendid, as has been the case most of this young season. Bayou managed only six net yards on 22 offensive plays in the first half against the Patriots’ first-stringers. The Colts had only one first down in the first half, and that came courtesy of a holding penalty against MRA.
The Patriots came away with two first half fumble recoveries deep in Bayou territory, resulting in touchdowns on both occasions. They collected two more turnovers in the second half, another fumble and an interception – giving them four total on the evening. MRA has given up just 17 total points over its last three games, none in the last seven quarters.
“Those guys were good again tonight, no doubt,” Davis said.
Davis, now 65-19 in his seven seasons at MRA, has been coaching for nearly three decades. He’s been a head coach for a majority of those years. Davis is believed to be the only football coach in Mississippi to take five different schools to an appearance in the state championship game. Afterwards, he seemed like a coach more caught up in the moment than one wanting to wax poetic about winning his 200th career game. The Patriots’ head man did take a moment to reflect on the milestone when asked about it during a postgame interview with reporters, however.
“I’ve been with a lot of good coaches and I’ve had a lot of good players along the way to help me get to this point,” Davis said. “I’m very blessed. It’s been a joy to get paid to do something I love.”