Patriots Win 5th Straight

MADISON – About midway through the first quarter, Presbyterian Christian School quarterback Ian Randolph found himself scrambling around in his own end zone. With 6-foot-2, 230-pound MRA Under Armour All-American linebacker Stone Blanton swiftly closing in, the much smaller Randolph was desperately looking to safely get rid of the football – while simultaneously fretting, and protecting, his livelihood.

It didn’t end well for Randolph, or PCS for that matter. Not only did he get crushed and basically devoured by Blanton a couple of seconds later, his wobbly, errant throw was picked off by MRA cornerback Cam Covey and returned 10 yards for a touchdown.

That one play pretty much encapsulated this entire early October evening. MRA simply had more treats than PCS had tricks. Led by a vastly improved defense which is seemingly getting better and better with each passing week, the Patriots annihilated the toothless Bobcats 58-5 Friday night at Patriot Field for their fifth straight victory.

MRA limited PCS to only 119 total yards offensively, 101 rushing and 18 passing. The Patriots’ first-string defense allowed just 44 total yards (26 rushing on 20 carries, and 2-of-8 for 18 yards passing) in the first half before sitting out the second half with MRA comfortably ahead. The Bobcats’ only offensive points came on a 37-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Their other points came on a safety.

MRA’s defense was so good it actually outscored PCS courtesy of Covey’s Pick 6. Covey also recovered a fumble in the end zone for another touchdown following a high snap over the head of the PCS punter with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter.

“The defense dominated tonight,” said MRA head coach Herbert Davis, with a big grin. “Obviously, we did some good things defensively . . . we even got our first defensive touchdown of the year. That was good to see. They set the tone early on . . . that looked like the old MRA defense out there tonight.”

Two-time reigning MAIS Class 6A champion MRA improved to 6-3 overall, 3-0 in conference play heading into next week’s homecoming contest against Magnolia Heights. PCS dropped to 6-2, 0-2. MRA is 12-1 all-time against PCS with an average margin of victory of 25 points. The Patriots have outscored the Bobcats 128-19 over the last 12 quarters.

The Patriots have now won 36 of their last 38 against MAIS competition. They’ve won 42 of their last 48 games overall, including 25 of their last 28.

Davis’ squad hasn’t lost since a 1-3 start. And none of the games have been close. During their current five-game winning streak, the Patriots are winning by an average margin of 33.6 points per game. The latest outing proved to be more of the same, as MRA eclipsed the 50-point mark for the second straight week. The Patriots led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 48-2 at halftime against the Bobcats, who entered on a three-game winning streak and allowing 13 points per game.

Sophomore quarterback John White threw four first half touchdowns – a 47-yarder to Matthew Latham on the third play of the game, a 16-yarder to Davis Dalton a little later in the first quarter, a 26-yarder and 13-yarder to Street Toler in the second quarter. Freshman running back Quincy Phillips also added a 1-yard scoring run.

Senior placekicker Landon McGee booted a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter to make it 51-2, and shifty sophomore running back Charles Simpson added a 50-yard touchdown run with four minutes remaining to round out the scoring.

“We’re such a young team, and that showed the first few weeks of the season,” Covey said. “But, over the last few weeks we’re starting to progress and get better, on offense and defense. I know the defense is trusting each other out on the field more. Just overall it has made us a better defense, and a better team. We have really grown since the first week.”

Prior to the season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding this MRA defense as Danny White was looking to replace seven starters from last year’s stellar unit. None of those were exactly expunged over the first month of the season – if anything more questions arose – as the Patriots’ D gave up a beaucoup of points to the likes of Greenville Christian, Oakland High (TN.) and Pulaski Academy (AR.)

Fast forward nine games into the regular season, however, and a lot of those questions have been answered. Really, there’s only one overriding question remaining: Is there any team in 6A capable of scoring enough points against this defense to dethrone the Patriots and keep them from three-peating?

So far, the answer has been a resounding no. Making that task all the tougher is the fact that White and Co. are averaging 40 points per game on offense.

“We go up against those guys every day in practice so we know how hard they are to stop,” MRA linebacker Jeff Polk said. “That’s one of the things that has made us better . . . and playing against those tough teams early on. We started off the season with a lot of new starters, myself included. So, we didn’t have the experience that we really needed. Now, we’ve gotten that game experience and that counts for a lot. We’re a different defense than we were in Week 1.”

Said MRA linebacker Bennett Cloud: “We’ve taken a lot of steps since that first game . . . we’ve improved a lot. As a whole, we bought in and decided to get better. We got thrown in the fire early on. Now, everybody feels really comfortable. You can see the difference.”

During the recent five-game winning streak, MRA’s defense has allowed only 9.8 points per game. The Patriots have yielded 205.6 yards total offense – 96.4 rushing, 109.2 passing. In MRA’s six wins, the defensive numbers are even better. The Patriots are allowing 9.3 points and a meager 184.6 yards per game – 77.6 rushing, 107 passing.

Blanton has returned to form after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Cloud and Polk, both first-year starters, have emerged as undersized playmakers alongside Blanton at the linebacker position. Braeden Watters has found a home at defensive end, as has Alex Hillhouse. Tackles Will Hornback and J.C. Kwasny, a first-year player who was homeschooled a year ago, have been more disruptive up front. And, the secondary of Noah Short, J.J. Latham, Tylor Latham and Covey have made noticeable strides.

“It’s a typical MRA defense,” Davis said. “We run well . . . that’s what keeps us in it. We’re finally starting to play better technique wise, especially up front with our defensive line. That’s where we’ve grown the most. There’s still a lot of things we need to improve on . . . we’re still young in the secondary . . . but we continue to get better there’s no question.”

Forcing turnovers has been a trademark of White’s defense ever since his arrival at MRA. Year in and year out, the Patriots have had in the neighborhood of 20 takeaways. Those takeaways have been fewer and farther between this year, however. The Patriots had come away with only six turnovers in their first eight games – three fumble recoveries and three interceptions – and were minus 13 in the turnover margin category.

That’s one reason Covey’s Pick 6 was so big. The Patriots were turnover free on offense, as well. No fumbles, no interceptions. White completed 14 of 18 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns – all in the first half. In his last six games, White has completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,065 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions – none the past two weeks. For the season, White has thrown for 2,759 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Davis was so happy with his team’s performance he elected to give them Monday off, much to the delight of the players.

“I told them it’s been a long, tough year . . . we’re going to play 12 games . . .so we’re going to use this opportunity to get rested up mentally and physically to refresh them so we can finish strong,” Davis said. “If we’re going to win this thing, we have to be fresh.”