MRA Wins 3rd Straight Over Prep

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MADISON – Tylor Latham arrived at MRA a couple of years ago from Starkville with the reputation of being a playmaker.

The junior running back/cornerback lived up to that billing and then some Friday night on a huge stage, making big plays on offense and defense to help propel reigning MAIS Class 6A champion MRA to a 50-24 victory over rival Jackson Prep at chilly Patriot Field.

Latham, displaying a potent blend of elusiveness, quickness, shiftiness, and speed, accounted for 176 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. He rushed for a season-high 146 yards on 14 carries and caught three passes for 30 yards in his biggest performance to date in an MRA uniform since transferring from Starkville Academy along with his brothers Willie, J.J. and Matthew.

He was also responsible for arguably the biggest play of the game midway through the second quarter. Just seconds after the first of Davis Dalton’s two long touchdown receptions had given MRA a 21-10 lead, Latham, from his cornerback position, went to make a tackle on a Prep receiver. Not only did he make the tackle, he surprisingly came up with the ball, stripping it away in the process. Two plays later, Latham scored his second touchdown of the night, scampering in from nine yards out.

That sequence ignited the raucous home crowd and the highly-formidable home team, which erupted for 27 unanswered points in a four minute, 34 second stretch in the second quarter to take a commanding 34-10 halftime lead. The Patriots also scored on their opening possession of the third quarter on the second of Rayf Vinson’s three touchdown runs to surge ahead 41-10 - just four points away from invoking a running clock.

Prep quarterback Riley Maddox, who was valiant in defeat, threw back-to-back touchdown passes in the third quarter to make the final score more respectable. But it was essentially game, set, match at that point. Latham raced 70 yards for a touchdown on MRA’s opening possession, “When (Tylor) touches it he can be electric, and he showed that again tonight,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said. “That (defensive) play he made in the second quarter was huge. That helped turn the whole game around.”

Said Latham: “It was actually kind of lucky. I went for the tackle, and the ball just came right into my hands. It was crazy how it happened. It was a big momentum shift for sure.”

Speaking of momentum shifts, MRA has now won three straight and four of the last five over Jackson Prep, which had won 14 straight in the series from 2011-2017. The Patriots have now won the last three regular season meetings, two here and one in Flowood. MRA ended Prep’s long winning streak in the series with a breakthrough 42-21 regular season victory here two years ago. Prep then defeated MRA 33-27 in that year’s championship game. MRA swept Prep last year – winning the regular season meeting 34-22 at Flowood and 48-33 in the championship game.

MRA improved to 8-0 and extended its winning streak to 15 games dating back to last season entering next week’s game at PCS. The Patriots have won 32 of their last 35 games, 27 of their last 28 against MAIS foes over the past three seasons.

Prep, playing without star running back Matt Jones, dropped to 5-2. Prep coach Ricky Black, the second winningest high school football coach in Mississippi history, was denied his bid for career win No. 400, as well.

“That was definitely motivation . . . we didn’t want him reaching that milestone against us, especially on our home field,” Vinson said. “But our main focus was winning the game and keeping an undefeated record. That’s what we’re aiming for. Coach Davis basically told us to be ourselves and do what we do, and if we did that we would be okay. That’s what happened. We came out and executed the game plan we had worked on all week, everybody did their job and we took care of business.”

MRA finished with 515 yards of total offense. The Patriots rushed for 238 yards on 44 carries, and quarterback Zach Beasley completed 15 of 19 passes for 277 yards. Beasley and Co. have now scored 41 or more points in four straight games, and have eclipsed the 50-point mark twice.

“I never thought we would hang 50 on them,” said Dalton, who finished with five catches for 104 yards, including touchdown grabs of 34 and 31 yards. “My pre-game prediction was like 28-17 for me, maybe 21-14 or something like that. But we had it rolling on offense tonight. We looked good.”

Good enough to score the most points ever allowed by a Jackson Prep varsity football team. The previous record was 49 given up against Jackson Academy in the 2009 state championship game. MRA scored 48 against Prep in last year’s 6A championship game, but that was with the best quarterback in school history, Philip Short, throwing for a Mississippi record 593 yards. All five of his top receivers are no longer around, either. In fact, only three offensive starters who were on the field a year ago in the title game at Mississippi College were on the field Friday. Latham and Vinson were both injured and didn’t play, while Dalton was a seldom-used reserve.

“We’ll take it,” Davis said. “This goes to show that we have a good football team. We were able to mix it up pretty good, and when we had an opportunity to take shots we did. I really felt like if we came out and executed we could do some good things and we did. We still can get better, I truly believe that. But I’m really proud of our kids. It’s a great win for our program, and we’re going to enjoy it. But our ultimate goal is to win another ring.”

Davis was particularly pleased with the play of Beasley, a senior transfer from Northwest Rankin who completed 10 of his first 11 passes for 227 yards. Through eight games, Beasley has thrown for nearly 1,700 yards to go along with 18 touchdowns. He’s completing 55 percent of his passes while throwing only four interceptions.

“That’s four games in a row for him, he’s really coming on,” Davis said. “Zach has really getting settled in, and he’s feeling more and more comfortable in our offense. He’s really intelligent, makes a lot of good reads. I thought he made a couple of good plays with his feet tonight, too. He’s getting better every week. That’s the kind of guy we have to have in our offense.”

Vinson, a Navy commit, also continues to have a stellar senior season. One year removed from suffering a season-ending ACL injury, the hard-nosed, versatile Vinson has a team-high 13 rushing touchdowns to go along with one receiving touchdown. A two-way player, he’s often employed in the Wildcat formation as he was again Friday. His 1-yard scoring run midway through the second quarter helped MRA regain the lead, 14-10, after Prep had gone ahead 10-7. And his third score, a 4-yarder early in the fourth quarter, capped the scoring.

“Coach Davis just tells me to be patient and follow our big guys up front and they’ll lead the way,” Vinson said. “They did a great job again tonight.”

The MRA defense, which has been stellar all season long, gave up its second highest point total of the season. Only three-time Texas state champion Trinity Christian (26) scored more in the season-opener. Prep finished with 338 total yards, 261 of that coming through the air. Most of those yards came in big chunks as Maddox lofted the ball high in the air and relied on receivers Jeffrey Ince and Thaxton Berch to make plays in one-on-one coverage. And often they did.

No worries when your offense scores half a hundo, though. That hasn’t always been the case in this series. Far from it. During their 14-game losing streak to Prep, MRA averaged only 11.6 points per game, managing as few as seven points on seven different occasions. In the current three-game winning streak, MRA has scored 50, 34, and 48 points, and in the last four wins Davis’ team is averaging 43.5 points per game.

Breaking it down even further, MRA has scored 174 points in its last four wins over Prep - 11 more than it scored in the 14 losses combined (163).

Latham, for his part, is glad to be back on the field and playing a part in helping MRA score points and win games. He injured his left knee in the fourth game of last season, an injury that sidelined him for the rest of his sophomore season. That meant missing both Prep games, including the championship game.

“We won the championship, but it was sad not being able to contribute in a sense,” Latham said. “It was tough sitting out, but the whole rehab process made me better. This year has been great. It’s a lot of fun playing with this group of guys.”

Latham, who shares time in the backfield with his brother J.J, Vinson and Hatcher Swanson (16 carries, 61 yards), has a team-leading 541 yards. He averages 11.5 yards per carry. He scored his first touchdown of the season in a win at Parklane a couple of weeks ago, and added a 56-yard scoring run in last week’s win over Hartfield.

“These last few games I’ve felt more like my old self, and fortunately I’ve been able to get into the end zone a few times,” Latham said. “It’s nice, but the big thing is winning. As long as we keep winning, and I can stay heathy, it’s all good.”


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