MRA Whips Hartfield In Rain

     MADISON – MRA head coach Herbert Davis loves the vertical passing game. His son, Hayden, a former quarterback who is now a part-time assistant on his dad’s coaching staff, feels the same way.

     At halftime, the Davis duo was reveling over the success the Patriots had through the air in the first half of Thursday’s lopsided 42-14 homecoming victory over Hartfield here at rain-soaked Patriot Field.

     “We can get that anytime we want,” Hayden said.

     “I know we can. If it was up to you we would throw it every down, though,” quipped Herbert, half-kiddingly. “We’ve got to be able to run it, too. We’re going to come out in the second half and run it right at them and see what happens.”

     Already leading 28-0 at intermission, Davis stayed true to his word and did just that. And Hartfield had no answer. MRA ran the ball 13 straight times over the course of their first two drives of the second quarter, resulting in 163 yards and a pair of nail-in-the-coffin touchdowns. Tylor Latham scampered 56 yards for the first one a little less than three minutes into the third quarter, and Hatcher Swanson added the other on a 1-yard run about four minutes later.

     Swanson’s scoring run was set up by 37-yard run from J.J. Latham, who had a 5-yard touchdown run of his own in the first quarter. That’s three different running backs with touchdowns, and none are named Rayf Vinson, who didn’t score on this night but leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 10. That’s good news for the Patriots, who finished with a season-high 281 rushing yards on 30 carries using the running back by committee approach they have all season.

     Tylor Latham had 85 yards on seven carries, J.J. Latham 82 yards on seven carries, Vinson 70 yards on seven carries, and Swanson with 45 yards on seven carries. That was accomplished behind somewhat of a makeshift offensive line, which welcomed the return of J.P. Wilke, who was back after missing the last two weeks with a concussion.

     “I felt like our offensive line hasn’t been together much at all, and hasn’t jelled, so I wanted to give them a chance to jell some in the run game,” Davis said. “Looking ahead to next week’s game against (Jackson) Prep we needed to work on that some. I thought those guys up front did a great job, and I thought our backs ran hard. I was pleased.”

     Said MRA offensive lineman Harper Blake: “J.P. and I feed off each other. We’ve been playing together since I moved here in the 8th grade. We help each other out a lot. When we come together everybody runs behind us. Coach Davis wanted us to perfect the run game in the second half because we threw the ball a lot in the first half. He said we were going to pound it and that’s what we did.”

     Defending MAIS Class 6A champion MRA improved to 7-0 and extended its winning streak to 14 games dating back to last season. The Patriots have won 31 of their last 34 games, 26 of their last 27 against MAIS foes over the past three seasons, entering next Friday’s showdown vs. Prep.

     Hartfield dropped to 6-2 on the field. However, the Hawks’ record is technically 4-4 as their first two games were lost by forfeit for using an ineligible player.

     MRA and Hartfield have played each of the past four seasons. The Patriots have outscored the Hawks 178-38 in those four games. Hartfield had not scored an offensive touchdown for a stretch of 10 consecutive quarters in the series prior to Cruz Garner’s 22-yard scoring run early in the third quarter.

     Hartfield entered Thursday’s game averaging nearly 44 points per game, eclipsing 50 points on three occasions and scoring at least 38 points in each of their wins. The Hawks managed only seven points against the Patriots’ first-string defense, which has yielded only eight touchdowns through seven games.

     Hartfield had 60 yards of total offense in the first half – 37 rushing, 23 passing. The Hawks’ other touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter with a running clock in motion and MRA’s reserves on the field. Hartfield took over in MRA territory three times in the first half, but was turned away each time. The Hawks missed a pair of long field goals and were stopped on 4th-and-1 the other time.

     “Defensively, I thought we played really well early, but we got a little lax in the second half and didn’t tackle well,” Davis said.

     While Hartfield’s offense was having trouble gaining traction against MRA’s stingy defense, the Patriots’ high-scoring offense was having its way with the Hawks’ defense. After an inauspicious start – a fumble on the opening play - quarterback Zach Beasley and Co. scored touchdowns on four of the next five possessions in building the 28-0 halftime lead.

     Beasley, who continues to improve as the season progresses in this his first year as MRA’s starter, completed 13 of 21 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns – all in the first half. He threw a 49-yard scoring strike to Davis Dalton, and also had a 64-yarder to Trey Zito and a 10-yarder to Pax Hughes. It all added up to six touchdowns – three rushing, three passing – and a season-high 499 yards of total offense.

     MRA has outscored its opponents 103-19 in the first quarter and 169-34 in the first half this season. The Patriots had seven explosive plays (20 yards +) - three on the ground and four through the air – giving them 44 such plays this season.

     “We had good balance tonight,” Tylor Latham said. “And you have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line. Those guys did a great job up front. When they play like that it makes our jobs a lot easier.”

     MRA is averaging 37.2 points per game, while allowing just 11.3 points per game. The Patriots’ offense has scored 51, 41 and 42 points, respectively, in the last three games. Meanwhile, the defense has held opposing teams scoreless in 16 of 28 quarters played. It has proven to be a highly-successful formula for the Patriots, who will bring an unblemished record and impressive resume (wins over three-time Texas state champion Trinity Christian and defending MHSAA Class 4A champion Corinth) into next week’s home game vs. Prep.

     MRA has won three of the last four against Prep, including a 48-33 victory in last year’s Class 6A championship game at Mississippi College. That victory earned MRA its third state title and first in 15 years, while dethroning seven-time reigning champion Prep.

     “We’re super excited for it,” MRA safety Hayes Puckett said. “Every year it’s a fun game, a tough game. Both teams are good again this year so it should be a battle.”

     MRA has won the last two regular season meetings (42-21 in 2018 at Madison and 34-22 in 2019 at Flowood. Prep is 4-1 entering tonight’s game against Washington. The Patriots’ lone loss came on the road at MHSAA Class 2A Taylorsville (47-37).

     “It’s Jackson Prep, so you know they’re going to have a good team,” Davis said. “We’ve got to put it all together next week . . . offense, defense, special teams . . . if we’re going to have a chance to win that game. We’re just going to continue to do what we do.”