Upon further review . . . hold on, wait on it . . . MRA is your 2019 MAIS Class 6A state champions. Yes, it's true indeed.
No more red challenge flags. No more challenges to the challenge. No more streak. No more always a bridesmaid, never a bride rhetoric. No more bitter endings, at least not this time. MRA wore blue and left with the blue trophy on a chilly Saturday night, dethroning seven-time reigning champion Jackson Prep 48-33 here at Mississippi College's Robinson-Hale Stadium to seize the program's third state title and first in 15 years.
After falling behind 19-7 in the first quarter, MRA outscored Jackson Prep 41-14 the rest of the way, including 20 unanswered points in the decisive and somewhat bizarre third quarter, to walk away with the convincing 15-point victory. The moment was extra sweet for the Patriots as they avenged last year's loss to Jackson Prep on this very field in this very game.
Coach Herbert Davis' squad did so behind a dazzling, mind-boggling performance from strong-armed quarterback Philip Short, who threw for 593 yards and five touchdowns – showcasing an aerial display the likes of which has never been seen before in a MAIS championship game on any level.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, MRA's players and coaches stormed the field to celebrate like it was 1992 or 2004 all over again. Some cried. Some yelled. Some exhaled. There were high fives. There were bear hugs. There was even an impromptu singing of the school fight song by the players and students on hand. At night's end, all the MRA faithful were on the field to share in the moment many thought would never come. And they have the pictures to prove it, complete with championship trophy, gold medallions and plenty of smiles.
"These kids worked their tails off to get to this point, and they didn't quit tonight," Davis said. "It's a special group of young men. It's a great feeling to finally win it because we've come a long way. It's good to see our kids get a chance to celebrate like this, especially after what happened to us last year. They know they can win a championship now. Hopefully it's the first of many to come."
MRA finished 12-2. The Patriots opened the season with five straight wins, then lost two straight on the road against quality competition before concluding with seven straight wins to secure their spot in school lore. MRA is 24-3 over the past two seasons with only one loss coming within the MAIS.
Jackson Prep finished 10-3, with two of those losses coming against MRA. It marks the Patriots' first three loss season since 2011.
"This is a great feeling, what a way to go out my senior year," said MRA two-way standout Joe Perkins, who co-starred with seven receptions for 118 yards including a pair of touchdowns to go along with a team-high 11 tackles. "I will never forget this moment. Thank God, because without Him none of this is possible."
Said Short: "First off I want to thank God, He's the head of my life and the head of this team. Last year, we felt like we came in here and gave it away. We stunk it up, myself included. I had one of my worst games. We felt like we were the better team, but we didn't finish the job. Tonight, we finished. We were determined as a team to get back to this game and win it. And that's what we did. All the hard work we put in over the summer and throughout the course of the season, I love to see it come to fruition. I dreamed of this moment, a championship. What better way to go out?"
MRA finished with a season-high 652 yards of total offense and hung 48 points, scoring at least one touchdown in every quarter as Short and. Co. essentially played a game of pitch and catch against Prep's out-matched secondary. And it likely could've been more. Despite the urging of several of those around him to tack on another touchdown near the end with MRA inside the Prep 10-yard line, Davis opted instead to take the high road and stay classy a la Ron Burgundy. He simply let the clock run out.
After all, at that point the damage was already done, the carnage complete. And the coronation awaited. Davis wasn't interested in style points or stat lines, just the trophy.
Remember, this is the same Prep defense which held Class 2A favorite Taylorsville and highly-regarded quarterback Ty Keyes to zero points earlier this season. The 48 points scored by MRA represent the second most points allowed by Prep in the last 16 years, surpassed only by the 49 Jackson Academy scored in the 2009 championship game. During that same time span, only four teams have eclipsed 40 or more points against Prep. MRA has done it twice in the last two seasons, including last year's 42-21 regular season victory at Madison.
That win snapped MRA's 14-game losing streak to Prep, with four of those losses coming in the state championship game under Davis. However, MRA has now won three of the last four games against its rival, including the monumental one Saturday night. It marks the first time since 1999 that a school other than Prep or JA has won the football championship in the MAIS' highest classification.
"You're talking about a monkey off my back," said Davis, who won his fourth state championship with his third different school. It's his first in six seasons at MRA. "A year ago, I walked off this same field feeling like the biggest loser on the planet. Not tonight, though. We're going to enjoy this one."
Turns out, it was a rather subdued, low-keyed kind of late night at 7601 Old Canton Drive. Davis and his staff ordered pizza and watched the championship game in its entirety before departing campus around 3 a.m.
Jackson Prep head coach Ricky Black, for one, is probably glad to see Short and Perkins graduate. Tyler Starnes, too, for that matter.
In four games against Prep, Short, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College commit, has thrown for 1,599 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's also added a pair of touchdowns runs for good measure, including a 6-yarder on a QB draw early in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Perkins, a Colorado commit, has caught 18 passes for 324 yards, including six touchdown receptions, to go along with a pick six in his last three games against Prep. Want to know why Perkins was named the league's Co-Most Valuable Player this season, look no further than his two performances against Prep.
As for Starnes? In the two wins over Prep this season, the speedy senior wideout has 15 catches totaling 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both of those came in the third quarter Saturday – the first a 30-yarder to tie the game 27-27, and the second a 72-yard haymaker to give MRA a 41-27 advantage.
"They were playing a lot of man free with press coverage and giving us one on one matchups," Starnes said. "We feel like we're going to win in that scenario every time. They just couldn't cover us. They were blitzing a lot, so we couldn't run the ball as well as we wanted to. So that opened things up for us to make big plays in the air. It was a lot of fun."
Short, who was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year for a second straight year, earlier this season became the school record holder in career passing yardage and career touchdown passes. He added a third school record to his resume Saturday night on the biggest stage, completing 28 of 40 pass attempts for a single game record 593 yards - breaking the old mark of 505 established by Matt Porter.
Short finishes his senior campaign with 3,545 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes against only five interceptions. He finishes his two-year career at MRA with 6,568 passing yards and 71 touchdown passes.
As he has done throughout his two-year stint at MRA, Short went down the field early and often Saturday, delivering 11 completions of 30 or more yards. He threw for nearly 400 yards combined in the first and third quarters alone.
"Big time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Perkins said. Philip was unreal. I don't care what anybody says, he's a Division I quarterback and he showed that again tonight."
There were many playmakers on this night. Four different receivers, count them four, had more than 100 yards receiving. Along with Perkins, Justin Williams (8 catches, 116 yards), Russ Sceroler (4 catches, 121 yards, 1 TD) and Starnes (5 catches, 184 yards, 2 TDs) all went over the century mark. MRA averaged 21.2 yards per completion and 10.5 yards per play. The Patriots didn't run the ball as well as Davis would've liked, although Drew Horton had 52 yards on 14 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the game.
Huge kudos to the offensive line, which gave Short plenty of time to operate despite a barrage of blitzes on nearly every down. "Those guys were great tonight," Short said. "I can't say enough about the job they did. And the receivers did a great job of getting open, too. They make my job a lot easier."
Things didn't go well for MRA's in last year's championship game, and Saturday's title tilt had a hint of déjà vu to it in the early going. "I was beginning to think Robinson-Hale was cursed there for a while," MRA senior defensive tackle Brendan Butler said. Prep, led by quarterback Riley Maddox and running back Matt Jones, scored on its first three possessions and by halftime had scored 27 points - five more than it scored the entire game during the regular season meeting at Flowood.
It was quite the shock to the system for an MRA team that had outscored its opponents 369-57 in the first half this season. This, too, against an MRA defense that entered allowing only 12.5 points per game. Add in the first lost fumble of the season, a potential touchdown pass going off Perkins' fingertips, and a couple of calls that went against the home team – including one that wiped out a 42-yard touchdown pass to Perkins and another that brought back a 31-yard touchdown pass to Landon Fulcher – and, as Butler put so succinctly put it "things weren't looking very good at that point."
Fortunately, MRA trailed by only six, 27-21, at intermission thanks to its high-powered, no-huddle offense. Davis and his staff made the necessary defensive adjustments at halftime, and those adjustments paid off handsomely in the second half as MRA held Prep to only six points in the final 24 minutes while Short and Co. were putting up 27.
After a strange sequence following a failed field goal by Prep midway through the third quarter, Short connected with Perkins on a 54-yard scoring strike to give MRA a 34-27 lead, one they would never relinquish as Prep went three-and-out on four of its final five possessions. In a twilight zone type moment, Perkins returned the blocked kick 92 yards only to have it nullified by a penalty. That penalty was then challenged by Davis and eventually overturned, only to have it overturned again following a challenge by Black.
Instant replay notwithstanding, the game still turned out to be an instant classic for MRA despite a combined 23 penalties amassing 231 yards.
"Prep did a great job coming out with a new formation we hadn't seen before," Davis said. "But we came in and made some adjustments at halftime, and that was the difference in the game. That, and these kids believed. They never thought they were going to lose."
Said Horton: "We're more physical than them and we have better athletes. We were just messing up at first and not doing our jobs and it showed. They got up a couple of touchdowns on us. But we stayed composed, made a nice adjustment at halftime and we were able to pretty much shut them down in the second half. It was a great win. It feels amazing. I've grown up watching them win one state championship after another, but tonight it was our turn."