MRA Defense Paves Way In 41-6 Win Over JA
JACKSON – MRA's big-play, high-scoring offense has garnered most of the headlines this season.
FYI: Don't sleep on the Patriots' defense. Sam Shufelt, John Cartwright and the rest of the gang on that side of the football are pretty good, too. Make that really good.
Jackson Academy found that out the hard way Friday night as MRA, led by a suffocating performance by its defense, cruised to a much-easier-than-expected, statement-making 41-6 victory before a packed house at The Brickyard.
"Total domination," MRA coach Herbert Davis said matter-of-factly. "That's a special group, and they showed that again tonight. Our front seven controlled the game not only in the run game, but they got a lot of pressure on the quarterback, as well. That was big."
MRA cornerback Drew Peacock set the tone early, breaking up a pass by delivering a crushing tackle on JA's Max Harmon in the flat on the very first play of the game. The defense forced the first of three turnovers on the night on the third play of the Raiders' very next possession, setting up an MRA touchdown less than five minutes into the game. It was all Patriots the rest of the way.
In fact, MRA's defense scored as many points as JA's defense thanks to Shufelt's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with just under six minutes remaining in the first half. The Patriots made life miserable for highly-regarded quarterback Kinkead Dent and the rest of JA's offense throughout the game, limiting the Raiders to 154 net yards – 80 coming on the final drive with backups from both sides in the game. The drive produced the Raiders' only points, as they scored from 1-yard out on the final play of the game.
MRA held JA to only 78 nets yards in the first half. Dent, a transfer from Manchester Academy, completed 7 of 14 pass attempts for 65 yards. Dent, normally very good at running and scrambling around and making plays outside of the pocket, had no such luck against Shufelt and Co. He ran the ball 10 times for minus nine yards, and also fumbled twice.
On one play, Cartwright, who plays opposite of Shufelt at defensive end, shot through the offensive line and sacked Dent, caused a fumble and recovered it. That turnover led to yet another MRA touchdown.
JA entered averaging 37 points and 368 yards per game.
"That's one of our best defensive games of the season for sure," Shufelt said. "Like I said earlier this week, if we can stop the quarterback we're going to whip their tail. And that's what happened. It's a big rivalry game. We came out and played really well, we executed and we did what we said we were going to do."
Earlier in the week, Cartwright predicted either he or Shufelt would record a pick 6. Turns out, he was a soothsayer. Shufelt's plucked the ball out of the air after Dent's pass ricocheted off the helmet of Drew Horton.
"Right when he caught it, I threw my arms up. I knew it was a touchdown," Cartwright said. "He played great tonight. He played his butt off. He's got some good stats, I know that. The thing that matters most, though, he did his job. He took on blocks, and when he had a chance to make plays he did."
Said Shufelt: "I saw a screen, and I was going out, and soon as I went out he threw the ball and it hit Drew on the helmet. It popped up, I caught it and at that point I knew I just had to beat one man. It was the quarterback. Jake Flynt made a good block on him. I ran outside and scored. That was fun."
The guys dressed in all white had plenty of fun on this night. After the game, Davis addressed his team on the field per usual. "It's over now men, you can smile." That was followed by a Jerry Jones-like "How about them Patriots!" That was all the fifth-year MRA coach could get out before his post-game huddle was overtaken by the gleeful MRA student section, which rushed the field chanting "MRA-MRA-MRA!"
"That was pretty cool getting to celebrate with them on the field like that," said MRA running back/linebacker Ridge Futral, who had a pair of touchdown runs. "It's amazing how this team plays together. We've still got room for improvement, but I think this team is starting to realize our full potential. We love each other and play for each other."
MRA remained undefeated, improving to 8-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play entering next Friday night's showdown against top-ranked Jackson Prep at Madison. The Patriots also avenged last year's homecoming loss to the Raiders.
JA lost its second straight to drop to 5-2, 0-2.
MRA has now won four of the last five in the series, including two straight at The Brickyard. Two years ago, the Patriots' snapped the Raiders' 46-game home winning streak on this very field. Technically new turf, but same field.
It's no secret there's no love lost between the two rival schools located only eight miles apart. And that played itself out Friday night, as evidenced by a multitude of penalties, several hard hits and overall chippiness. At one point in the third quarter, umpire Doug Buckles came over to the sideline and told one observer "I take it these two teams don't like each other very much."
"There was definitely some tension between the two teams," said MRA quarterback Philip Short, who experienced the rivalry for the first time. "There was a lot of talk during the week, but we didn't let that knock us off our game. We stayed focused and the outcome took care of itself. We wanted to get off to a fast start, and we were able to do that tonight. That was big. When you get up early on a team like we did tonight, you have to go ahead and finish them and take the life out of them. That's what we did."
MRA went three-and-out on its first possession, then scored touchdowns on its next four possessions. That, coupled with the defensive touchdown, added up to a 35-0 halftime lead. Tucker, making his second career start, had 111 yards on 15 carries, including touchdown runs of 10 and 14 yards in the first half alone. He finished with 133 yards on 19 carries before exiting with an injury on what turned out to be his final run of the night and possibly the season.
His left arm was in a sling after the game. It's highly possible he has a broken collarbone.
"I may be done, I don't know," Tucker said. "I hope not, but if so it was fun while it lasted."
Tucker, who didn't play a year ago and started the year as a third-string running back, now has six touchdowns the past two weeks after taking over for the injured William Milam. MRA is hopeful Milam can return in two weeks.
"The way (Tucker) attacks the hole is incredible," Futral said. "He just kind of glides through there and then he's gone.
Said Davis: "The kid can run. That will be a tough blow if we lose him."
A.J. Hasley capped the Patriots' scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter – his first of the season.
Short completed 8 of 11 passes for 180 yards. During one first-half scoring drive, he completed passes to wideout Justin Williams on three consecutive plays covering 64 yards. The Patriots finished with 351 yards – 171 rushing, 180 passing – and 41 points against a JA defense that came into the game allowing only 11.6 points per game. MRA totaled 283 of those yards in the first half.
Facing a 1st-and-45 situation on its own 30-yard line on its final drive of the first half, MRA converted en route to its final touchdown of the first half. The Patriots have now outscored opposing teams 268-56 in the first half this season.
"We just do what we do," Davis said. "We've got some good players. We were balanced tonight. We felt like when we wanted to run the football we could run the football. Our quarterback and receivers made some big players for us, too. And I thought our offensive line did a great job."
Davis portrayed quiet confidence throughout the week leading into the game. He liked his team chances. He just didn't want to say it publicly.
"We thought we could do it, but you've still got to go do it," he said. "The effort was incredible. It was a big win for us. We needed that."
Davis was asked by a reporter afterward if he thought his team would be 8-0 at this point in the season. His response? "I told you at the beginning of the year that I liked my football team. I don't know if we're as talented as some of the past teams in some areas, but we've got some glue. We've got some great leaders, and they're doing the things it takes to be a great football team. And they make plays. When you've got kids who play hard and do what you ask them to do it's a good start."
Up next? Jackson Prep. Yep, that Jackson Prep. The Patriots, led by all-everything running back Jerrion Ealy, are seeking their seventh consecutive state championship. They, too, are undefeated this season, setting up a matchup of a pair of 8-0 teams next Friday night at Patriot Field.
"It's the next game," Davis said. "Just like tonight. We've got to treat it the same way. We've got to have confidence in what we're doing, believe in it and go beat a giant."
Back to the defense, which was without starting linebacker Stone Blanton (injured shoulder on JA's sixth offensive play) most of the game. They have now forced 21 turnovers this season leading to 105 points, to go along with the three touchdowns they've scored while allowing only 12.4 points per game. Combine that with an offense that averages 47 points per game and you have a formula for success.
"We're real excited about the win tonight, and where we are right now as a team but it's just the beginning," Davis said. "We have to get ready for next week, and the playoffs."