Patriots Upset 3-Time Texas Champion

Patriots Upset 3-Time Texas Champion In Opener

MADISON – Despite a slow start, Zach Beasley stayed the course, kept his composure and earned a passing grade in his debut as the new MRA quarterback.

Davis Dalton was as good as advertised at wide receiver, and then some, in what served to be his coming out party.

Stone Blanton was, well, Stone Blanton – a tackling machine.

Versatile Rayf Vinson conjured up some late game pixie dust ala the Briarcrest Christian home game two years ago. Tylor Latham did what he does – make plays on both sides of the ball. And 5-10, 165-pound backup kicker Landen McGee earned instant B.M.O.C. status at least for a week with a not-so-pretty, yet beautiful PAT he will remember the rest of his life.

Throw in a clutch touchdown in the waning seconds, a timely penalty, an ill-advised play call late in the game, and a heavily-favored team playing roughly 400 miles away from home against a well-coached, hungry team, and you have the recipe for a Texas-sized upset. That’s precisely what happened Friday night at newly-renovated Patriot Field, as MRA stunned visiting Trinity Christian 27-26 in the season opener for both teams.

Trailing by six points and facing a 4th-and-8 at the Trinity Christian 10-yard line, Beasley took the shotgun snap and shuffled up and out of the pocket to his left before firing a dart to a tightly-covered Dalton in the corner of the end zone, just beyond the goal line, with only seven seconds remaining. Dalton, who also handles kicking duties, cramped up in both calves after the game-tying catch, paving the way for the left-footed McGee, who up to this point has been better known for his soccer skills. He delivered, coaxing a somewhat low liner through the freshly-painted uprights.

A few seconds later, MRA safety Hayes Puckett intercepted a desperation heave by Trinity quarterback Shedeur Sanders to end all the drama and secure one of the biggest wins in MRA program history. The Patriots trailed 14-7 at halftime, 20-7 relatively early in the third quarter and 26-20 with five minutes to go. The defending MAIS Class 6A state champions refused to go away, however, batting back each time until finally taking the lead in the frantic, frenzied final seconds.

In fact, the ending was so thrilling MRA will have to purchase a new camera prior to next Friday night’s game at Copiah. Caught up in the moment, film guy Harper Hudnall, stationed on the top of the press box, inadvertently let go of the camera and it went sailing downward, eventually crashing on the ground some 50 feet below.

“We battled our hearts out,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said afterwards. “I’m so proud of them. We made a lot of mistakes tonight, but at the same time we made a lot of big plays, too. We really came on in the second half and played well. We beat a really good, talented football team tonight.”

After ending last season with a 48-33 victory over rival Jackson Prep to secure the program’s first state championship in 15 years, MRA jump-started the 2020 season with arguably the biggest win in program history some nine months later. Not a bad one-two combo for the Patriots, who have now won 25 of their last 28 games over the past two-plus seasons.

None of those wins were more improbable than the latest one. The talent-laden Tigers came in as the three-time defending Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools champion, winners of 39 of their last 41 games and ranked 12th in the MaxPreps computer-generated preseason rankings. Trinity Christian’s roster is littered with future Division I signees, led by Sanders, a four-star signal caller who has committed to Florida Atlantic. He is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who so happens to be the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.

Trinity Christian looked the part, too. “When I saw them getting off the bus, I couldn’t help but think what have I gotten my guys into,” quipped Davis.

Meanwhile, MRA, a quality football program in its own right, came in with more questions than answers after looking shaky in a pair of preseason scrimmages. Due to heavy graduation losses, the Patriots were minus the best quarterback in school history in Philip Short, dynamic play-maker Joe Perkins, the top five receivers from a year ago, as well as the entire defensive front and third-leading tackler Willie Latham, Blanton’s sidekick at linebacker, among others. In addition, two presumed starters – one in the secondary and one receiver – were out due to injury/illness. Couple all that with the fact that Blanton (illness) hadn’t practiced the last two weeks, and there was plenty of cause for concern.

“I think most people were thinking we were going to get blown out,” Blanton said. “I saw one guy picked us to get beat something like 35-13. We knew we were the underdog. But we didn’t listen to any of the rat poison. We just came out and did our thing and came away with the win. That was a lot of fun.”

Blanton, a Mississippi State baseball commit who also has several high Division I football scholarship offers, was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. Despite battling full body cramps throughout the game, the hard-hitting 6-2, 220-pounder made one tackle after another, keeping the Tigers’ normally high-powered offense relatively in check and affording the Patriots’ offense a chance at the end. Blanton, a four-star recruit considered one of the top junior inside linebackers in the country, was so dominant and so impressive that a representative from the Under Armour All-American game offered him a spot in the prestigious event immediately following the game.

“He was the best player on the field,” Davis said.

While Blanton stole the show on defense, Dalton grabbed the spotlight on offense with help from Beasley, who has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Short. Dalton, a 6-3, 180-pound junior, had a team-high six catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Those six catches were more than he totaled all last season as a sophomore in a reserve role. He had three catches totaling 91 yards in the first half, including an eye-popping 38-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter to give MRA a 7-6 lead.

Davis, sandwiched between two defenders, went up high in the air, high-pointed the ball, and came down with it for his first career touchdown reception. His second touchdown catch – a 34-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to pull the Patriots within seven, 20-13 - was also a gem as he once again Moss-ed a pair of defenders. Then, of course, his third and final touchdown of the evening proved to the biggest. He faked a fade route, then broke back toward the front corner of the end zone before reeling in Beasley’s perfectly-thrown pass.

“That game was insane, especially with it being my first start and all,” Davis said, with a big grin.

While Davis knew he had a star in the making in Dalton, even he couldn’t have predicted that type of performance. “He was special tonight, no doubt,” he said. “Wow! What else can you say. He made some big-time catches. He’s going to be a good one.”

Davis hopes the same holds true for Beasley, who competed 14 of 28 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. After five straight incompletions to start the game, Beasley, a Northwest Rankin transfer, settled in and eventually helped lead his new team to a huge victory.

“Zach made some great throws tonight,” Davis said. “There’s some things he needs to get better at, but I thought he got better as the night went along. Hopefully the more he plays, he’ll get more confident in the offense and gain some more confidence. He did a really good job on that last touchdown pass of stepping up in the pocket and making a good throw.”

Trinity Christian scored on its opening possession to take a 6-0 lead as Sanders scampered in from 10 yards out. MRA regained the lead 7-6 and was looking for more midway through the second quarter when Beasley’s errant pass was picked off in the end zone by Cameron Wilson, who raced 100 yards the other way to hand the Tigers a 14-7 halftime lead. Sanders, who finished 19 of 27 for 209 yards operating behind a massive offensive line, opened the third quarter with an 8-yard scoring strike to Kavion Williams giving his team a 20-7 advantage.

MRA responded, chipping away at the lead on Dalton’s second touchdown grab before tying the game at 20-20 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Vinson, a senior with offers from Air Force and Navy among others. Vinson, operating out of the Wildcat, navigated his way for nine yards on 4th-and-1 the previous play to set up his own score.

Trinity answered right back a couple of minutes later on a 3-yard touchdown run by Emari Matthews to take a 26-20 lead. Latham, who like Vinson missed a good portion of last season with a knee injury, broke through the line of scrimmage to block the extra point – proving to be one of the biggest plays of the game in a game full of big plays. “I came around the right end and fortunately I was able to get there and get a hand on it,” said Latham, who had a big 38-yard run to set up Vinson’s scoring run.

Beasley was once again intercepted in the end zone on MRA’s next possession. Trailing by six points with just over two minutes remaining in the game, things looked bleak for the home team at that point. However, two plays later facing a 2nd-and-7 from his own 23-yard line, papa Sanders called an ill-advised reverse play that resulted in a fumble. Vinson made the strip on the play and Sam Polles recovered the loose pigskin, handing the ball over to Beasley and Co. at the Trinity Christian 12-yard line with 1:42 left.

Ironically, two years ago near the same spot on the very same field, Vinson’s Pick 6 helped MRA pull off a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback against Briarcrest. The magic happened once again Friday night, as five plays later Beasley and Dalton connected on their third touchdown. Beasley was stymied on a 3rd-and-6 play for a 3-yard loss near the Trinity Christian sideline, but a targeting call moved the ball to the 5-yard line.

With the game clock winding down . . . tick, tick, tick . . .Ty Brooks was tackled for a 5-yard loss on a reverse play, setting up a do-or-die 4th-and-8 at the 10-yard line with 14 seconds remaining.

“I knew I couldn’t take a sack on that play so I was just trying to buy some time and get a little closer to Davis,” Beasley said. “As soon as Coach Davis called the play I knew it was going to be a touchdown because Davis had been on fire all night and he had one-on-one coverage. I didn’t think there was any way the guy could cover him one-on-one, and I knew Davis wouldn’t drop it. It was just a matter of me getting it to him and fortunately I was able to.”