FLOWOOD – Equipment manager Remington Webster munched on some goldfish snacks. Starting quarterback Philip Short, donning a red cap, playfully made up dance moves as he signaled in plays to the offense. Assistant coach Chad Lipscomb, normally in the press box, chillaxed on the bench periodically checking his phone for other scores. And star running back William Milam, towel draped around his neck, twirled a football in his hands to fight off the boredom.
That was the scene along the jubilant MRA sideline early in the third quarter on Friday night as the Patriots thoroughly enjoyed what would eventually turn out to be a 50-0 blowout victory over out-manned Hartfield.
The large margin – MRA led 43-0 at halftime – provided head coach Herbert Davis the perfect opportunity to rest and preserve most of his starters while also giving the reserves a chance to play. Guys like reserve running back Josh Tucker, who rushed for a career-high 93 yards on 17 carries, including a pair of touchdowns. And A.J. Hasley, who gained 75 yards on 13 carries, both career-highs. Backup quarterback Pierce Smith, among others, also got in on several possessions, even catching a pass for the first time this season.
It was hard to determine who enjoyed the breather on the schedule more - the reserves, who got to play a lot more than normal, or the regulars, who gleefully cheered on their normally lesser-used teammates throughout the second half. Either way, there was plenty of PT and plenty of smiles and laughter to go around on this night. At least on the visiting side.
"It was fun to watch those guys get a chance to play," said MRA linebacker/running back Ridge Futral, who had an 8-yard touchdown run. "Games like tonight serve as a reward for those guys. Little do the people in the stands know, those guys are out there working hard every day just like the starters. It was fun to watch them, and to just be able to sit back and watch some football for a change."
MRA improved to 4-0 entering next Friday's game against Copiah. It marks the first of three straight home games for the Patriots, who have outscored their first four opponents by a combined score of 175-51. Furthermore, they have yet to allow any third quarter points and have outscored the opposition 59-16 in the second half.
Hartfield, playing on its home field for the first time this season, dropped to 1-3.
"We challenged our guys to come out and play well tonight and take care of business and we did," Davis said. "And we were able to get some of the younger guys in, too, and that's always a good thing. We've still got some things we need to clean up, but we saw a lot of good things. This team has a lot of potential, we've just got to continue to work hard and play to a championship caliber."
As to be expected, the final stats were as lopsided as the final score. MRA out-gained Hartfield 473-36 in total net yardage. The Patriots had 262 yards rushing – 173 coming in the first half – and 211 passing yards – all in the first half. Meanwhile, the Hawks managed only eight rushing yards and 28 yards through the air. MRA also had 24 first downs, compared to just three for Hartfield.
The Patriots' defense forced a pair of turnovers – both interceptions by safety Joe Perkins. Both came in the first half, leading to a pair of MRA touchdowns. Perkins, a two-way standout getting interest from a handful of Division I programs, picked off Hartfield quarterback Shane Wingate on the Hawks' second play from scrimmage, and had a lengthy return all the way down to the Hartfield 4-yard line. That set up a 9-yard touchdown pass from ever-improving quarterback Philip Short to wideout Justin Williams.
And the rout was on. MRA was already up 7-0, having scored on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Short to wideout Landes Purnell on the second play of the game. Short completed 8-of-12 passes for 199 yards, including three touchdown passes. Two of those went to Williams, who also scored from 46 yards out midway through the third quarter.
"Philip was dropping dimes," Williams said. "The offensive line did a great job . . . he didn't have any pressure this week, and that's one of the first times it has been like that. He had all the time in the world to throw it and the receivers were able to get open. That's what happened tonight."
Even on the rare occasion things went bad for MRA, things turned out well. Early in the second quarter, Short's option pitch to Milam ended up rolling on the ground only to be scooped up by Milam, who then somehow eluded a pair of would-be Hartfield tacklers en route to the end zone for his team-leading ninth touchdown of the season.
Back to the defense. The Patriots forced seven three-and-outs and allowed the Hawks to cross midfield just once in posting their first shutout of the season. Thirteen of Hartfield's 36 plays went for zero or negative yardage to go along with 10 incompletions and the two aforementioned interceptions.
"We're pretty good up front defensively, and those guys really disrupted things again tonight," Davis said.
Davis opened his post-game speech jokingly telling his team that they "stunk it up tonight." He paused for moment, then called their performance "a total domination." Which it was.
A year ago, heavy underdog Hartfield led MRA 14-13 nearly five minutes deep into the third quarter in Madison before witnessing the Patriots rally for a much-harder-than-expected 39-14 victory. The sense after that game was that MRA overlooked the Hawks, and also suffered a letdown a week after losing to Briarcrest in Memphis.
This year, a week ago in fact, MRA scored three late touchdowns to shock Briarcrest 42-35 – the biggest win of the Davis era. There was some concern of another such letdown this week, especially considering the magnitude of last week's win. Those concerns were put to bed early, however.
The Patriots have outscored the Hawks 76-0 over the last 5 ½ quarters dating back to last season.
"We looked down on Hartfield last year, and we really didn't accept the challenge," Perkins said. "The difference this year is we have more leadership, and we came into this game with a different mentality . . . that was to come in here and dominate and not play down to their level, but to play up to ours."
Added Futral: "We're playing for us. We're trying to play up to our potential every game. We try to take every game just as serious as the last one, and I think that's one of the things that has made us successful."