MADISON – Even the most seemingly invincible superheroes and legends have their weaknesses. For example, Superman had kryptonite. The Green Lantern had the color yellow. What's Thor without his hammer after all? Or Iron Man without his suit? Or Spider Man without his web-shooters? Think Delilah's scissors when it comes to Samson and his hair. Even Achilles had, well, his heel.
Try as he might, Wile E. Coyote could never catch the Road Runner.
For MRA? No doubt, it's Jackson Prep. As ultra-successful as the Patriots have been during the last eight seasons, they haven't been able to beat THE Patriots. You know, those Patriots - the owners of the absurdly gaudy record and the bling and the hardware that go along with winning six consecutive State championships, the most feared team in the MAIS, the one with star running back Jerrion Ealy.
In fact, 2,895 days had passed since MRA had beaten Jackson Prep on a football field. That's right, 2,895 days, dating all the way back to November 5, 2010. Since then, MRA had lost 14 straight in the series by an average margin of three touchdowns per game. Most pundits thought that number would reach 15.
As ESPN's Lee Corso often says, not so fast my friend. MRA had other ideas. Man, did it. Coach Herbert Davis' squad made a little revisionist history of its own on Friday night and did so in a major way, whipping the previously unbeaten Preppies 42-21 before a standing room only crowd at Patriot Field.
"It's about this team and it's about right now, that's all that matters to us," said MRA defensive end John Cartwright afterwards, as a massive celebration took place behind him near midfield. "It's not about the past, it's not about the future, it's about how we're playing right now."
Right now, MRA is playing pretty dang good. Good enough to be still undefeated at 9-0 with eye-opening, statement-making back-to-back wins over rivals Jackson Academy and Jackson Prep in its pocket. Good enough to snap the reigning champ and top-ranked Patriots' 26-game winning streak. Good enough to hand them just their fourth loss in their past 63 games. Good enough to, dare we say, win it all come November.
"I think so," said Davis, who bagged his first victory over Jackson Prep since arriving at MRA five years ago. "Obviously, there's a lot of football yet to be played and a lot of work to do. But, this shows us what we can do. This is a great win for our program. Our effort was incredible. The kids played their tails off. I'm pumped. I'm going to enjoy it. But, at the same time, I want to finish. We're not done yet."
Added MRA running back/linebacker Ridge Futral: "Obviously Prep is the big dog in the house right now so it feels great to take them down. We're not done yet, though. It doesn't matter if we don't win that championship game. That's our ultimate goal."
MRA improved to 9-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play heading into the final two games of the regular season. The Patriots travel to Oak Forest next week, followed by a trip to PCS. If they can win those games and remain perfect, they will get a first round playoff bye, then host a semifinal game the following week.
In that scenario, MRA would more than likely be in the bracket opposite of Jackson Prep (8-1, 3-1) and Jackson Academy, which would be huge even though MRA has beaten those two teams by a combined score of 83-27 the past two weeks. Tweet your favorite party GIF here, MRA fans.
MRA receiver Landes Purnell, for one, is hoping the magic carpet ride continues as long as possible. While this may not be one of MRA's most talented teams, it certainly is the most selfless, with a competitive spirit, and a togetherness to boot.
"Winning tonight, beating Prep the way we did was amazing," Purnell said. "Honestly, we were expecting it, though. There's something special about this team this year that's different. That's the mentality of this team – we know that we have something special this year. We knew it this summer from the start of workouts."
Hard to argue so far. With apologies to Muddy Waters, the Patriots certainly have their mojo workin'. And they are armed with a special quarterback in Philip Short. The junior signal-caller proved to be just the adamantium MRA needed to end the frustration and agony surrounding the long losing streak to Prep, slinging the football all over Patriot Field to the tune of 369 passing yards. He completed 17 of 28 passes, including four touchdown passes and also ran for another score in helping the Patriots light up the scoreboard for 41 points – four more than Prep's defense had given up the ENTIRE season prior to Friday night.
Truth be told, it could've been more. The Patriots squandered a few scoring opportunities, fumbling into Prep's end zone on their first possession, dropping a pass in the end zone one possession later, and missing a pair of field goals in the first half alone.
Two of Short's scoring tosses went to Purnell, the first covering 18 yards to stake MRA to a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, the latter coming with just under five minutes left in the third quarter and covering 57 yards. It was arguably the biggest play of the night as it gave MRA the lead once again after Jackson Prep, despite being out-played, had found a way to rally and knot the score 14-14 midway through the third quarter after falling behind 14-0 to start the game. MRA outscored Prep 21-7 the rest of the way to pull away for good, 28-7 counting Purnell's second touchdown reception.
Short flipped a perfect pass down the middle of the field to a streaking Purnell, who got behind one-on-one coverage to add yet another long touchdown reception to his highlight film.
"Philip's pretty darn good," Davis said. "That was a huge play. Instead of caving in, we answered. That was the statement of the night right there because honestly I was thinking just what (Prep) was thinking, they're right back in this thing."
Short connected with Futral on a perfectly-executed, perfectly-timed screen pass that went for a 16-yard scoring play to push the MRA lead to 28-14 near the end of the third quarter. And later, following Cody Swanson's 20-yard touchdown scamper, Short capped his career night with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Justin Williams with 2 minutes and change left in the game.
Short has now thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns this season against only four interceptions. One of those came midway through the third quarter, allowing Prep to climb back in the game, at least momentarily. Scrambling around in his own end zone under heavy pressure, Short threw the ball up in the air as he was being tackled. It came down in the hands of Bryson Weeks, who returned it six yards for a game-tying touchdown.
"I was in our own end zone so I was just trying to get rid of it," Short said. "I didn't want to take the safety. I threw a pick, but I bounced back. I didn't let it take over my game. Bad plays happen, you have to forget about it. As a quarterback, you've got to have a strong mind. I had to bounce back. I knew my team needed me. I knew I had to step up big in this game."
Said Purnell: "I love that dude so much. He's a heckuva passer. He hits the right routes at the right times and that's how the passing game was tonight. He as absolutely insane. He got banged up, but he fought through it. He's a big time player. We're blessed to have him on our team."
Short spread the wealth nicely. Purnell finished with five catches for 106 yards. Rayf Vinson had four catches for 104 yards. Williams had three catches for 98 yards. And Joe Perkins had two catches for 63 yards. That was complemented by a rushing attack that tallied 184 yards, 136 coming in the second half when MRA took total control of the game. Not bad considering the Patriots were without their top two running backs, William Milam (back) and Josh Tucker (broke collarbone). Milam has been out the past three weeks, while Tucker sustained his injury a week ago in the 41-6 victory over JA.
Cody Swanson, who had only two carries on the season coming in, picked up the slack, picking up 123 yards on nine carries while splitting time with Futral (12 carries, 58 yards) behind an ever-improving offensive line. Swanson actually out-gained Ealy, who finished the night with 98 hard-earned yards on 25 carries with nearly a dozen Division I college recruiters in attendance.
"The coaches knew I had some experience playing running back, so they asked me to switch in and out with Ridge this game," Swanson said. "I knew what I had to do. I knew my teammates, and the offensive line were going to work as hard as they could to help me have the game I needed to have and they did."
While the offense keeps rolling – Short and Co. are averaging 46-2 points per game – so, too, does the MRA defense. One week after shutting down JA's offense in suffocating fashion, the Patriots' D limited Jackson Prep's normally high-scoring offense 24 points below its season scoring average.
Prep finished with 269 yards total offense, including a net of just 73 rushing yards on 33 attempts. Both season-lows for Prep, by far. Ealy, who had 18 of his team's 40 rushing touchdowns coming in, managed just one touchdown against MRA. And that came on a broken play, as Ealy scooted into the end zone from two yards out with Prep trailing 35-14 with just over four minutes remaining. His longest run from scrimmage all night was 19 yards.
MRA's defense also came up with a turnover which led to a touchdown, stuffed a fake field goal attempt for a big loss, forced six 3-and-outs, and delivered one hard hit after another. Prep managed only 115 yards of total offense in the second half.
"Our defense really stepped up tonight," Davis said. "Those guys have been really good all year. I thought our coaching staff did a great job this week of getting our guys prepared to play, not only x and o wise, but mentally as well after such an emotional win last week."
Getting his team to get over the mental hurdle of beating Prep hasn't been easy. Davis and his staff accomplished that feat this go around. The physical part, and the needed speed, were already in tow.
"Jackson Prep has a great program," said Davis, who had over 50 congratulatory texts on his cell phone following the game. "Not only do you have to beat them on the field, you have to believe you can beat them. Those are the things we've been trying to get across to our kids, and our kids have believed all year long."
Tongue in cheek, Short didn't know what all the fuss what about afterwards. After all, he is 1-0 against Prep, which suffered its first loss since October 14, 2016 at PCS – a span of 727 days.
"I had never seen Prep play before tonight," he said. This is my first year here so . . . I had heard a lot about them, and Coach Davis told me a lot about them. I really didn't know what to expect. I just tried to play my game and make plays to help my team win. It was exciting. I want to give credit to God because without Him all this is not possible. We started off a little slow, but we pulled it together, got in a groove and the score took care of itself."