Patriots Win Big on Senior Night

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MADISON – Throughout the school day Friday, Rayf Vinson kept having thoughts of playing his last regular season game later that very evening at Patriot Field.

The seminal moment didn’t truly kick in until a few hours later, however, for the MRA senior.

“It really hit me right when we went out for Senior Night,” Vinson said. “I started tearing up a little bit, but after that I was ready to go. It’s crazy to think it all went by just like that, in a blink of an eye, really. I was a little bitty freshman, seems just like yesterday.”

Emotions aside, Vinson, along with 14 other seniors, continued their winning ways as MRA rolled to a 45-13 victory over visiting Oak Forest. Senior quarterback Zach Beasley threw four touchdown passes – three to Davis Dalton and one to Vinson – and Vinson also ran for another as the Patriots capped off an undefeated regular season in runaway fashion on a chilly Halloween eve night.

MRA, the reigning MAIS Class 6A state champions, improved to 10-0 overall, 5-0 in conference play. The Patriots are the No. 1 seed for the upcoming playoffs, earning themselves an opening round bye next week. MRA will host the winner of next Friday’s Oak Forest-PCS quarterfinal the following Friday. The winner of that game will then advance to the 6A championship game the next week at Mississippi College.

MRA, which is on the side of the bracket opposite Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy, extended its winning streak to 17 games dating back to last season. The Patriots have won 34 of their last 37 games overall, and 29 of their last 30 against MAIS competition.

Oak Forest dropped to 3-5, 1-3.

MRA has won five straight in the series by an average margin 25 points.

Turns out, Senior Night for Vinson and Co. was a lot like digging through one’s pillowcase or plastic pumpkin after a long night of going door-to-door trick-or-treating. There was plenty of good to be found – chocolate, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles and such – mixed in with some bad – butterscotch, Tootsie Rolls and that dastardly candy corn and the like.

MRA coach Herbert Davis got the win he was looking for. He got the blowout he was looking for – the clock ran continuously in the second half after the Patriots took a 42-6 halftime lead with 35 unanswered points in a 12-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters. He got to rest his starters in the second half and play a lot of his younger players, including freshman running back Matthew Latham, who got his first carries of the season. Davis also saw his passing game return to form after an off week a week ago in rainy Hattiesburg. And, of course, the defense was stout once again outside of a busted coverage that resulted in an early Oak Forest touchdown pass.

However, there were also a couple of injuries that put a damper on the festivities. Starting safeties Hayes Puckett and Drew Peacock, both seniors and both key contributors on Danny White’s defense, went down with shoulder injuries following tackles. Puckett went out at the 7:56 mark of the first quarter, while Peacock departed with 10:31 remaining in the second quarter. Neither returned. Their status moving forward is unclear. 

“We got everything we wanted out of tonight’s game really, except for the injuries,” Davis said. “Two shoulders . . . hopefully we can get them rehabbed up and they can finish this thing with us.”

MRA is now just two wins away from a second straight Class 6A state championship. The Patriots dethroned Jackson Prep a year ago to claim the program’s third state title and first in 15 seasons, and are the favorite again this year after a somewhat surprising unblemished regular season resume which includes wins over three-time Texas state champion Trinity Christian and defending MHSAA Class 4A champion Corinth.

This current group of seniors have no doubt played a huge role in that success. In fact, they are 34-4 over the past three seasons. Seven of those wins have come over chief rivals Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy, four against the Patriots and three against the Raiders. Not too shabby, especially considering they won only one junior high game as 9th-graders. That's right. One, as in uno.

“We talked about it in the pregame tonight,” Davis said. “Nobody really thought we were going to be this good this year. First of all, losing so many good players from last year’s team the way we did. Then, you look at the fact that this group only won one game as 9th graders. And you factor in all the Covid-19 stuff on top of that . . . it just goes to show you our seniors have done a great job of holding our team together and carrying on our tradition. I’m probably as proud of this bunch as any I’ve had. They’ve done a tremendous job of leading this football team.”

Sam Polles, another MRA senior, was on that one-win junior high team four years ago.

“A lot us were on that team . . . we had a terrible 9th grade year,” Polles recalled. “It really shows the developmental skills of our program because every team that beat us back in the 9th grade we’ve beaten them pretty good since then. So, we’ve gotten our revenge. It’s a credit to Coach Davis and his staff.

“It’s crazy how fast time flies,” he continued. “It seems like just yesterday we were moving up as freshmen and sophomores. The games go by so fast. It’s crazy. You don’t really understand it until you get there.”

MRA has arrived here - as in undefeated and really good here – by playing complimentary football. The defense has been downright nasty at times, allowing only 10.9 points per game this season. And the offense has shown the propensity to beat teams on the ground or through the air, or both, to the tune of 38.4 points per game. Both sides were good again Friday night against the out-manned Yellowjackets, who saw their modest three-game winning streak come to a halt.

Oak Forest managed only 139 total yards – 102 rushing, 37 passing. The Patriots’ defense forced a season-high four turnovers, scored once courtesy of a 22-yard interception return by Tylor Latham, and yielded only six first downs and the one early touchdown. The Yellowjackets’ other touchdown came on a 45-yard interception return on the final play of the game, long after Davis had gone deep into his bench.

PCS managed only 130 net yards a week ago in a 28-0 loss to MRA, meaning the Patriots’ defense has allowed only 269 yards and one touchdown in the last two games. Going back to the fourth quarter of the Jackson Prep game, Danny’s Dawgs have scored more points (9) than the opposing offenses (7) over the last nine quarters – giving up only 273 net yards in the span of the last 108 minutes.

Meanwhile, Beasley and the MRA offense, coming off a season-low 67 passing yards a week ago against the Bobcats, bounced back in a big way. Beasley surpassed that total on his first pass alone, connecting with Dalton on a 80-yard scoring strike to give the Patriots an early 7-0 lead. He completed his first nine passes and finished the half 12 of 14 for 266 yards before taking the rest of the night off.

“It felt a lot better than last week,” said Beasley, who has thrown for 1,984 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions this season. “I struggled last week, but tonight everything was clicking. I fixed some of the mechanical issues I was having and it helped me be a lot more accurate.”

Beasley also connected with Dalton on scoring passes of nine and five yards, and Vinson turned a short pass across the middle into a 69-yard touchdown with a nifty run after the catch. Likewise, Dalton did the same on his 80-yarder, eluding one defender before he was off to the races.

Dalton, MRA’s star receiver, was shut out last week against PCS. He had five catches totaling 102 yards against OFA. He now has 30 catches for 673 yards and 12 touchdowns this season despite missing two games. The junior has four games with at least two touchdowns.

“Our passing game was a lot better this week compared to last week,” Dalton said. “It gives us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.”

The bye/off week seemingly comes at an opportune time for MRA. The Patriots were already without the services of starting offensive linemen George Drake and Rush Bland along with third-leading rusher J.J. Latham. One can now add Puckett and Peacock to the ever-growing injury list.

“It should be good for us,” Polles said. “We are going to be off Monday and Friday next week, so that will give us a couple of more days to rest. Obviously, we had some injuries tonight, so it’s a good time for us to recoup, rejuvenate and get ready for the playoffs. Hopefully we will get those guys back.”

Only time will tell what the near future holds. Vinson, for one, is going to take a few days to enjoy the Patriots' most recent victory.

“It felt great being out there tonight,” said Vinson, a Navy commit who has a team-high 16 touchdowns – 14 rushing, two receiving. “A bunch of seniors from the past couple of years hit me up this week and told me to enjoy it all, so that’s what I tried to do . . . take it all in and try to enjoy being out there one more game with the guys. It was fun. It was a great night.”


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