MRA Wins 4th Straight Over Prep

FLOWOOD – With just over three minutes remaining here Friday night, Davis Dalton lined up to punt for MRA near midfield. The snap went sailing way over his head – literally the only ball the Patriots’ star wideout didn’t catch all night – forcing him to run back and chase it some 25 yards or so behind the line of scrimmage. With a host of Jackson Prep defenders closing in, Dalton, with his back turned to them, calmly scooped up the loose pigskin off the ground, pirouetted to his left and in one motion somehow managed to get the punt off.

The Prep return man ended up fair catching Dalton’s punt at his own 28-yard line. Whew! Disaster averted. Dalton playfully shrugged his shoulders as he trotted off the field ala Michael Jordan in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals vs. the Portland Trailblazers.

“As I was running back, I heard Coach (Jacob) Land yelling ‘you’ve got time, you’ve got time . . . so I picked it up and I was like oh no I don’t have time,” Dalton said, with a chuckle. “I punted it then I got smoked. So I didn’t see how far it went because I was on my back. I’m just glad I was able to get it off and didn’t get hurt that bad.”

That unbelievably athletic play was arguably the most impressive one Dalton made during MRA’s 50-20 victory over Jackson Prep. And that’s saying something, a whole lot of something, considering the 6-foot-3 senior set what is believed to be a Mississippi record – certainly a school record – with a jaw-dropping, highlight-filled 388 receiving yards on 14 catches.

Quarterback John White kept chunking it against an overmatched and dazed Prep secondary, and Dalton, a Southern Miss commit, kept delivering. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The sophomore signal-caller completed 28 of 40 passes for a career-high 521 yards and five touchdowns. Four of those TD passes came in the first half, three of which went to Dalton, covering 41, 67 and 64 yards. The other went to Street Toler (7 catches, 87 yards), a 13-yard scoring strike to help MRA jump out to a commanding 27-3 halftime lead.

“We felt coming in that we could have some success in the passing game, but I wasn’t thinking we would do all that,” said Dalton, who had eight catches for 264 yards at halftime. “I didn’t think they would keep coming back to me the way they did.”

Two-time MAIS defending Class 6A state champion MRA improved to 5-3 overall, 2-0 in conference play. After a 1-3 start against a brutal early schedule, the Patriots have now won four straight. Coach Herbert Davis’ squad has won 35 of its last 37 games against MAIS competition and 41 of its last 47 overall, including 24 of its last 27.

Jackson Prep, under first-year head coach Tyler Turner, dropped to 4-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play. The Patriots saw their four-game winning streak halted.

MRA looked fresh in its clean all-white uniforms. Prep was dressed in all red. The Pat Gang was sporting all-black attire. And former Prep coach Ricky Black, who was honored at halftime, had on a dapper blue suit. Color the series any way you want, so long as it paints a picture of a seismic shift in MRA’s favor. MRA has now won four straight and five of the last six against Prep, which had won 14 straight against MRA – a span of 2,895 days - until MRA snapped that streak with a 42-21 regular season victory in Madison in 2018-‘19.

Not only that, MRA has scored 100 points against Prep in the last two meetings – 50 a year ago, and 50 again this year – matching the most points Prep has allowed in a game in program history. It’s also the most points Prep has allowed to one team in back-to-back seasons in program history. During the current four-game winning streak, MRA has scored 182 points (45.5 ppg.) – 148 of those coming in the last three games alone – and thrown for a whopping 1,636 yards (409 ypg.).

Prep used to own MRA. MRA now owns Prep. There's simply no debate. MRA, seeking a third straight state title this season, has also enjoyed success against its other chief rival as of late, beating JA seven of the last eight meetings, including a 35-7 victory earlier this season. Combined, MRA has won 12 of the last 14 over Prep and JA. Not too shabby.

MRA, just for the fun of it, even mixed in a flea-flicker on this night. And a successful one at that, resulting in Dalton’s third touchdown. Depending on how one looks at it, the trick play was a nod to, or a jab at Prep and Black, who as most recall used to run a similar type play against MRA every year. And, yes, quite frequently it worked.

“It feels good to beat Prep, especially beating them this way after they beat us what seemed like forever,” said Dalton, who has a combined 21 catches for 556 yards and six touchdowns against those two rivals this year.

Double D has indeed been double trouble for opponents as he continues to put up video game type numbers. He now has 56 catches for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. In the last three games alone, Dalton has 26 catches for 679 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s an entire season for some, a career for others. Speaking of a career, after playing sparingly as a sophomore, Dalton has amassed 97 catches for 1,975 yards and 24 touchdowns in 18 games over the past two seasons. That’s 20.4 yards per catch for his career, 19.6 yards per catch this season, and 26.1 yards per catch over the last three games.

Interestingly enough, as the calendar flips to October, here's a spooky tidbit: Dalton's home street address begins with the numbers 388, the same number of receiving yards he totaled on this night. Undoubtedly, he woke up Friday morning feeling extra dangerous.

“That’s insane, that’s something like you would see on Madden, and even then that may not happen,” MRA running back/defensive back Tylor Latham said. “Davis is so good. He’s special.”

Davis, the coach, agrees.

“I’ve been saying when the ball is in the air, there’s nobody better,” he said. “I’ve been coaching 30 years, college and wherever . . . he attacks the ball in the air as good as I’ve ever seen. He made a great over his head catch right before halftime. He’s a nightmare. Street is a good one, too. We’re going to continue to find ways to get them the ball.”

Prep’s only points in the first half came on 42-yard field goal by Louie Gatlin. Quarterback Paxton Thompson completed TD passes to Will Upton and Luke Williams in the second half, and Gatlin added another field goal from 29 yards out, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with White and Co.

Landon McGee answered with a 36-yard field goal of his own, White tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Quincy Phillips, J.J. Latham had a 15-yard touchdown run, and Charles Simpson tacked on a 11-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes for a 30-point MRA victory.

MRA hasn’t played overly well in the first half the past couple of weeks. That certainly wasn’t the case against Prep, however. The defense helped set the tone early, forcing two three-and-outs on Prep's first two possessions to complement the offensive fireworks.

“We came out and finally put four quarters together,” Davis said. “That’s really the first time we’ve done that all year. We didn’t do too much in the third quarter, and I would’ve liked for us to finish a little better than we did, but it was a good win. We showed what we can do when we play well. I’m really happy.”

Dalton’s big night was the headliner, but someone has to get him the ball, correct? That player is White, who has had a stellar season after transferring to MRA from Winona Christian. QB1 has completed 147 of 220 passes (67 percent) for 2,505 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“John had a big night, no doubt,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said. “He knew where he wanted to go with the ball tonight for the most part, and he was dead on. The O-line did a really good job of protecting, too. We executed well in the passing game.”

White hopes to keep the hot hand next Friday when MRA returns home to host PCS. The Bobcats, 6-1 and 0-1 in conference play, blasted Bowling Green 51-6 Friday.

“I felt good tonight,” White said. “I felt confident, probably the most confident I’ve been going into a game this year. It feels like we’re finally clicking now. The guys around me make my job so much easier. Sometimes we line up and it’s like okay who wants the ball this time. Who do I want to throw to, Davis or Street? I have a lot of confidence in both of those guys. I feel like they are going to catch just about any ball I throw their way. And, they are both capable of scoring on just about any play.”