Dalton-Led MRA Buries JA 35-7

MADISON – About this same time a year ago, MRA star wide receiver Davis Dalton woke up the morning of the Jackson Academy game running fever and feeling terrible. Hours later he tested positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss the game later that night.

The Raiders weren’t so fortunate this time around.

On the flip side, Dalton left JA feeling ill Friday night, hauling in three second half touchdown receptions to help MRA pull away for a statement-making 35-7 victory in the MAIS Class 6A opener for both teams at Patriot Field.

“Yeah, I thought about that during the day and before the game,” Dalton said. “I’m glad I got to play this time . . . it’s really my first time to play against JA in the regular season because I didn’t play much my sophomore year and then I had to sit out last year’s game.”

Davis, a senior who has committed to Southern Miss, certainly made up for lost time, reeling in a game-high seven catches totaling 168 yards. All three of his touchdowns came during a dizzying, game-altering 6 ½-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, helping MRA run away from a 7-7 halftime score and send JA to its first loss.

Dalton caught a 42-yard TD pass from quarterback John White (22-of-33, 324 yards) for a 14-7 lead with five minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter. A few minutes later, he added a 38-yard TD catch for a 21-7 lead. White then connected with Dalton on a 29-yard touchdown pass for a 28-7 lead less than one minute into the fourth quarter. On the first TD, he broke free on a perfectly executed screen pass. On the second, he got way behind a would-be JA defender in one-on-one coverage. And on the third, he caught a short slant route and juked two JA defenders in the secondary en route to the end zone.

As Davis made his way over to the MRA sideline, head coach Herbert Davis walked by him and in jest said “why don’t you make a play tonight?” They both enjoyed a good laugh. Dalton must have dipped his hands and feet in NyQuil because it was goodnight for a weary JA defense after that.

Less than two minutes later, speedy freshman running back Quincy Phillips added the proverbial cherry on top, scampering 89 yards for a touchdown to make it 28 unanswered points for the Patriots, who finished with 502 total yards.

“After I broke that first tackle, I said crib,” said Phillips, with a big grin.

JA outscored its first two opponents 48-0 in the second half on the way to wins. The second half belonged all to MRA, however, on this night. The Patriots had 383 yards of total offense in the second half – 220 passing, 163 rushing – compared to only 56 for the Raiders.

“I thought by the end of the third quarter, and maybe before then, (our conditioning) started making a difference,” Davis said. “And it helped us finish strong.”

While JA, or at least a group from JA, found a way to depart the premises with a brick-filled memento previously displayed near the MRA football locker room, coach Lance Pogue’s team wasn’t able to escape with a victory. Two-time reigning Class 6A state champion MRA improved to 3-3 with its second straight win. The Raiders dropped to 4-1.

MRA has won seven of the last eight in the series, including a 41-14 victory in last year’s 6A title game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Coupling that with beating Jackson Prep four of the last five, MRA has won 11 of the last 13 against their two biggest rivals.

The student section, aka the Pat Gang, dressed in red, patiently waited afterwards before eventually sprinting onto the field to help celebrate the Patriots' latest win once Davis concluded his post-game remarks.

A 1-3 start that included lopsided losses to three defending state champions - MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian, Tennessee Class 6A public school state champion Oakland and Arkansas Class 5A state champion Pulaski Academy – had some doubting MRA’s chances of winning a third straight state championship and fifth in program history. While the Patriots aren’t nearly as stacked as they’ve been the past two years, Friday’s 28-point victory over JA should serve notice that this year’s road to the Class 6A title will still have to go through 7601 Old Canton Road.

As a reminder, MRA has won 22 of its last 25 and 39 of its last 45 games overall, 34 of its last 36 against MAIS competition, and 23 of its last 25 at home.

“Everybody thought we weren’t very good coming into this game because we lost those three games the way we did,” Dalton said. “There were a lot of people on websites and stuff picking us to lose. So, it felt good to come out and win the way did tonight and get conference play going on a positive note.”

Dalton has provided plenty of positives during the last two years. A dual-sport standout who also helped MRA win an Overall basketball title last year, Dalton enjoyed a breakout season in football as a junior. He had 41 catches for 877 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing two games. He had five games with at least two touchdowns, including a three-touchdown performance in a season-opening win over three-time Texas state champion Trinity Christian.

While the catches have kept coming this year – he leads the team with 37 for 587 yards – the touchdown grabs have been harder to come by as he’s faced double-teams and bracketed coverages seemingly every week. He had only one – a 30-yarder against Pulaski – prior to Friday night. Fellow receivers Street Toler (5 TD’s) and Rivers Godwin (4 TD’s) have combined for nine.

“It does feel good to finally have a really big game,” Dalton said. “I really wasn’t frustrated because I’ve been getting a lot of catches and a lot of yards. And, it has been cool to see some of the other guys getting touchdowns because they didn’t get that many last year. As long as we win, that’s all that really matters.”

Dalton also had an excellent night in his role as the team’s punter. He averaged 47 yards on five punts, including one that traveled 63 yards. He pinned JA inside its 20-yard line four times with two of those being downed at the 1-yard line.

“Davis was big in the kicking game, too,” MRA Under Armour All-American linebacker Stone Blanton said. “He really helped us out with those deep punts.”

Blanton, Braedan Watters and Co. certainly did their part on this night. JA managed only 216 total yards and seven points. The Raiders’ lone touchdown came on a 26-yard pass from quarterback Tate Collins to wideout Merritt Nations at the 8:07 mark of the second quarter. It was the least number of points scored by JA since a 48-7 loss to MRA in 2019.

Cam Covey blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, denying the Raiders’ other best scoring opportunity. JA was 3-of-16 on third downs and 0-for-3 on fourth downs. MRA had 14 tackles for losses, including three sacks of Collins, who had to shoulder most of the offensive load with two of his best playmakers sidelined. Leading rusher Marcus Harris left the game late in the first quarter with an injured ankle and didn’t return, and wide receiver Dakota Jordan, a Mississippi State commit, sat out most of the second half because of leg cramps.

Minus Harris and Jordan, JA's offense was as vanilla as the all-white uniforms donned by the Raiders. Collins, a Madison Central transfer, completed 5 of 20 passes for 82 yards and ran for 85 yards on 23 carries.

“It really started off with practice,” Blanton said. “We’ve been practicing really hard the past two weeks . . . coming out and dominating like we did tonight it’s is really rewarding to see the fruits of our labor.”

MRA defense has been a strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the first six games. In three wins, the Patriots have allowed a total of 21 points and an average of only 129.3 yards per game – 47.3 rushing, 82 passing - and seven first downs. In three losses, MRA has allowed 152 total points and allowed an average of 571.7 yards – 328.3 rushing, 356.3 passing – and 24.3 first downs.

“Hey, how about our defense,” Davis said. “They’ve been struggling. The last two weeks, since coming back from Pulaski, they’ve been working really hard and they’ve gotten better. They showed that tonight. I’d like to see us control that quarterback from scrambling the way he did, but other than that our defense played their tails off.”

Blanton’s return to form certainly helps. He had off-season shoulder surgery – an injury that has limited him mentally and physically this season. He sat out the season-opener against Greenville Christian, played the first half only the following week at Natchez Cathedral and has slowly rounded into true form since then.

“I finally saw No. 10 in the second half, no doubt,” Davis said.

Said Blanton: “I’m finally feeling like my old self. My shoulder feels great now. I’m confident again. It took some time to build that back up. It’s good to be back. It was just a matter of getting back into pads and being able to trust my shoulder. Now that I’m able to do both of those things, it’s game on. I’m ready to play.”

MRA’s second-half outburst came after it squandered several prime scoring opportunities in the first half and first part of the third quarter. The Patriots’ lone first half points came courtesy of a 1-yard touchdown run with just under four minutes left in the first quarter.

White threw the first of his two interceptions on the Patriots’ second possession, they failed to score after taking over at the JA 46-yard line following a short punt, and they fumbled on the 1-yard line just prior to reaching the end zone early in the third quarter. The play was eventually ruled a touchback.

“We felt like we had some things in the first half, we just didn’t do a good enough job of putting it all together and executing the way we needed to,” Davis said. “But we were able to do that in the second half. I’m really proud of our kids for bowing up in the second half and executing better. We stayed together and came back strong. It was a great team win, a total team win.”

MRA travels to MHSAA Class 3A Raleigh next Friday. The Lions, ranked No. 2 in 3A, are 2-0. They boast wins over Taylorsville (44-7) and Seminary (26-13).