Patriots' Defense Pitches Shutout
HATTIESBURG – MRA’s defense has been meritorious all year.
Faced with one of their biggest challenges of the season, and on the heels of perhaps their worst outing, Danny’s Dawgs went next level on a rainy Friday night here in the Hub City.
The Patriots’ D showed up and showed out, not only containing the nation’s leading rusher, Marquis Crosby, but pitching a shutout, as well, as MRA remained undefeated with a 28-0 victory over homestanding PCS.
Goose egg. Zilch. Zip. Love. Bagel. Donut. Blank. Nil. Nothing. Naught. Nada. Insert whatever word you would like for zero, that’s how many points Stone Blanton and Co. held the normally high-scoring Bobcats’ offense to on this stormy homecoming evening. Crosby, a senior running back who entered averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground, totaled 133 yards on 36 carries. The Louisiana Tech commit managed only 33 yards in the second half, 18 of those coming on one run in the waning minutes with the Patriots firmly in control.
PCS came into the late regular season game averaging 38 points per game. The Bobcats had scored 35 or more points six times, and had eclipsed 49 or more points on four occasions. The MRA defense limited PCS to just 130 total net yards, 30 in the second half. The Bobcats’ offense didn’t cross midfield on its final eight possessions, and it managed only two first downs over the course of the final 30 minutes.
Pretty good, huh?
“Honestly, I was hoping we would hold them to seven, and we shut them out, so yeah I’m pleased with that,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “Anytime you get a shutout it’s good, but when you shut out a team like that, you’ve really done something. They’ve been scoring a lot of points. It took us a little bit to adjust to what they were doing offensively, but once we did we did a pretty good job of shutting them down.”
Reigning Class 6A state champion MRA improved to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play, extending its winning streak to 16 games dating back to last season. The Patriots, who host Oak Forest in their regular season finale this upcoming Friday, have now won 33 of their last 36 games overall and 28 of their last 29 against MAIS competition.
PCS dropped to 7-3, 2-2 with its second consecutive loss. The Bobcats host Jackson Prep next week to conclude the regular season.
MRA improved to 9-1 all time against PCS. The Patriots’ average margin of victory in those nine wins is 25 points. The Bobcats’ lone win in the series (45-44 3 OT) came in 2016.
Isaiah Woullard, now at Ole Miss, ran wild that night for PCS, helping the Bobcats overcome a big passing game from Hunter Hulsey. It appeared as if the 5-foot-9 Crosby, who seemingly touches the football on nearly every snap in PCS’ one-dimensional attack, may follow suit early on. He tallied 93 yards on the Bobcats' first three possessions. However, PCS came away empty-handed each time, allowing MRA’s defense the opportunity to adjust and settle in. It was pretty much game over after that, even with the Patriots’ not operating on all cylinders, especially through the air.
“We feel like we can shut most teams down if we play our best,” said hard-hitting MRA safety Hayes Puckett, who recorded an interception. “We kind of had a chip on our shoulder after the Prep game because they put up 24 on us. We came out pretty determined to have a better showing.”
Crosby entered with 2,665 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns, averaging 10 yards per carry in the process. He recently ran for a single-game school-record 502 yards (third most in Mississippi history) and six touchdowns in a win over Simpson Academy, and followed that up with a 370-yard performance in a loss to Jackson Academy last week. He exited with his lowest number of rushing yards since a Week 1 loss to Escambia High (Alabama).
“He’s been gashing teams all year, we knew they were going to give it to him a lot, and we knew how good he was,” Puckett said. “Outside of a few broken runs, we felt like we bottled him up pretty good. Our linebackers played great.”
Said Blanton: “We’re pretty pleased. He’s one of the best backs in the state . . . he leads the nation in rushing. So, to shut him down like that is pretty good. We had a slow start, but we bounced back. Even though he had 133 yards, he had a ton of carries. For us to shut them out, that’s pretty impressive.”
So, too, was the performance turned in by MRA running back Tylor Latham, who actually out-shined Crosby on this night. The junior made a strong bid for back-to-back Player of the Week honors, dashing and darting his way to a game/career-high 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 17 carries.
After a scoreless first quarter, Latham, a slippery sort who has run like he’s averse to being tackled as of late, scampered 61 yards for a touchdown to stake MRA to a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the second quarter. He also helped set up MRA’s next touchdown – a 12-yard run by Hatcher Swanson with 1:22 remaining in the first half – with a 54-yard run for a 14-0 halftime lead.
Swanson’s second touchdown run of the evening – a 14-yarder - made it 21-0 MRA with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Then Latham provided the finishing touch, scoring from 10 yards out with 5:46 left.
The 5-foot-9 Latham, a junior, has a team-high 747 yards this season. He is averaging 11.7 yards per carry. All six of his touchdowns and 506 of those yards have come in the last four games, including a 146-yard, two-TD performance in a 50-24 victory over Jackson Prep a week ago.
“Our passing game has been so good this year, so (PCS) decided to drop eight on us a lot tonight,” Latham said. “So, it was pretty easy to find running lanes and break those big runs.”
Latham ran behind a revamped offensive line, which was missing starters George Drake and Rush Bland due to injuries. The Patriots’ third-leading rusher and Tylor’s younger brother J.J. Latham is also sidelined with an injury. In addition, Rayf Vinson (7 catches, 62 yards) was utilized more in the passing game on this night, paving the way for more carries for Latham and Swanson (6 carries, 44 yards).
“When J.J. went out I knew I had to be ready to step up, go in and prove what I could do,” said Swanson, a junior who has been slowed by a nagging hip injury since last track season. “I feel like I’m another player who can help out the offense.”
Said Latham: “We make a pretty-good one-two punch.”
That has certainly been the case in recent weeks. The duo of Latham and Swanson helped make up for an off night from quarterback Zach Beasley (8-for-21, 63 yards). In fairness, the conditions were less than ideal, especially on a grass surface. In fact, the game was pushed back 15 minutes due to inclement weather in the area. Also, as Latham mentioned, PCS was determined not to let MRA beat it through the air, often dropping eight defenders in coverage and rushing only three.
“I didn’t think we handled the rain all that well, but we did what we had to do,” Davis said. “We took what they gave us.”
Meanwhile, the MRA defense wasn’t giving up much – nothing, in fact, in terms of points. A 22-yard field goal attempt by PCS on its opening drive was deflected at the line of scrimmage. Turns out, that proved to be the Bobcats’ best chance of putting points on the board. They didn’t get any deeper than the MRA 36-yard line the rest of the game, and even then Puckett turned them away with an interception.
Danny’s Dawgs have held opponents scoreless in 21 of 36 quarters this season, including seven straight and 10 of 12 during one stretch, and more recently five in a row. The first unit has allowed only 11 touchdowns through the first nine games. When factoring in incompletions and turnovers, 42 percent of the opponents’ plays go for zero/negative yardage.
The Patriots are allowing only 11.4 points and 212 yards (102 rushing, 110 passing) per game.
Not bad, huh?
“It’s awesome,” Blanton said. “But at the same time we don’t live in the past. We have to play every game like its our last, and we’ve got to go win the next one. We always have room for improvement. Our ultimate goal is to win the state championship again.”