White, Patriots End 2-Game Skid

MENDENHALL – An uncharacteristic 1-3 start had all those affiliated with the MRA football program feeling bluer than the all-blue uniforms the Patriots donned here Friday night.

Leave it to a guy with the last name White to help Herbert Davis’ beleaguered squad overcome that rare case of the blues.

Sophomore quarterback John White was especially solid on this crisp, color rush evening in Simpson County, completing 18 of 22 passes for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns – all in the first half – helping MRA cruise to a ho hum 42-7 road victory over overmatched Simpson Academy.

“John makes us go . . . our offense revolves around him,” MRA running back Quincy Phillips said. “He’s a great quarterback.”

After facing a brutal early-season schedule featuring three games against reigning state champions from Mississippi (Greenville Christian), Tennessee (Oakland) and Arkansas (Pulaski), respectively, Simpson proved to be a much-welcomed reprieve, of sorts. The Patriots wasted little time exerting their dominance over the Cougars, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions en route to the lopsided win.

MRA (2-3) led 21-7 early in the second quarter, 35-7 at halftime and 42-7 late in the third quarter, putting the ‘running clock’ rule into effect for the second time this season. The Patriots did the same in a 56-7 road victory over Natchez Cathedral a couple of weeks ago – their lone win in the first month of the season prior to Friday.

Simpson, which had given up only 12 points through its first three games, dropped to 2-2.

“We needed that,” said MRA head coach Herbert Davis, who has guided his program to back-to-back MAIS Class 6A state championships the past two seasons.

Davis put the football in the hands of his sophomore signal-caller early and often, and White, who has offers from Southern Miss and Liberty, responded with yet another stellar performance. A week removed from connecting on 22 of his first 23 passes – including 20 straight completions at one point – in a loss at Pulaski, White completed all but four passes Friday night. He spread the wealth, too, hooking up with 10 different receivers.

“That’s the best he’s thrown the RPO’s (run-pass options) all year,” Davis said. “That’s really what we need him to do to do what we want to do in our offense. It’s part of our run game. He did a really good job with that. He threw the ball on time.”

Said White: “I feel like I was in control tonight . . . it was way better. We have a lot of weapons, so that makes my job easier.”

White, a transfer from Winona Christian, has been put through baptism by fire in the early part of this his first season in a MRA uniform. Thrust into the spotlight against the likes of arguably the No. 1 team in Mississippi, the top-ranked team in Tennessee and the No. 2 team in Arkansas, and operating behind a revamped offense line minus three starters from last year’s championship team, it hasn’t always been easy. He threw seven interceptions through the first four games – three more than last year’s starter, Zach Beasley, threw all last season.

However, he has met the challenge head on, displaying a certain toughness and sticktoitiveness. To date, he has thrown for 1,350 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 66 percent of his passes. Those numbers would’ve been even better if not for a penalty that negated a 30-yard touchdown pass to Davis Dalton in the second quarter here Friday.

White hopes to parlay that individual success into more team success as the season progresses starting with this week’s game against rival Jackson Academy. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Patriot Field. The Patriots have won six of the last seven over the Raiders, including a 20-10 win at JA during the regular season a year ago and a 41-14 victory in the state championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“I feel like this is the best we’ve been,” White said. “Those three games really prepared us for our schedule ahead. Coach Davis knew when he scheduled those three teams that it was going to be tough. He said those three games were for the long run, to help us out at the end of the year. I definitely think it’s going to help us. JA is undefeated, they have a lot of momentum right now. I’m sure they are still mad about last year, and MRA beating them for the championship. We’ve got them at home . . . it should be a good game. It’s going to be a fight.”

MRA will likely continue to employ the same quick passing game it displayed in its most recent outing. The Patriots compiled 519 yards – 343 passing, 176 rushing. The quick passing game serves as an extension of the running game, and it brings more players like D.J. Gainwell and Phillips into the mix.

Gainwell, a sophomore transfer from Germantown, had a pair of 4-yard touchdown runs in the first quarter and late in the second quarter scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass from White. That play highlighted the evening, as the fleet-footed Gainwell reeled in the short screen pass and jetted down the field like he was shot out of a BB gun.

“DJ was amazing on that play,” Phillips said. “I promise you he’s next up.”

The same can be said for Phillips, a freshman who this time last year was playing for T.L. Weston Middle School in Greenville. Phillips, a shifty runner in the same mold as Gainwell, had 11 touches against Simpson, his most since arriving at MRA. He had 41 yards on seven carries, and 40 yards on four receptions.

“It’s not just about me and D.J., it’s about the whole team,” Phillips said. “It’s all about patience. I just have to wait my turn. We have seniors, we have juniors, we have sophomores, so I have to wait my turn, and when I get the ball to try make something happen. The same goes for D.J.

Said Gainwell: “Quincy and I make a good duo. We can do a lot of good things together. We’re ready to do our part to help the team win games.”

Fellow running back J.J. Latham, MRA’s leading rusher, had a game-high 72 yards on six carries, including touchdown runs of one and nine yards. The first was set up by his own 26-yard reception, and the second was set up by his own 46-yard run.

Sophomore Charles Simpson had 70 yards on nine carries, all in the second half as MRA went deep into bench.

“We’ve got some good depth at running back, so we’re able to keep fresh legs in there,” Davis said. “And we have some guys who can make plays. You saw that again tonight. We’ve got to be able to spread it out, get it to those guys in space and let them make plays.”

Street Toler, who has emerged into a big-play receiver in this his senior season, provided the other MRA score, hauling in a 18-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter. Southern Miss commit Davis Dalton had five catches for 66 yards.

The Patriots’ defense turned in arguably its most complete performance of the season, allowing only 92 total net yards – 20 yards rushing, 72 passing. More than a third of that came on one play – a 34-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-20 with just under two minutes remaining before halftime.

Giving up big plays has been a bugaboo so far this season for a defense that allowed eight more points (159) through the first four games than it allowed all last season (151). The Patriots, who lost eight starters from last year’s unit, have yielded 31 plays of 20 or more yards, with 16 of those going for touchdowns. Ten of those have covered more than 45 yards.

“Obviously, we did a lot of good things defensively tonight,” Davis said. “I will have to look at the film, of course, but what we saw tonight was kind of a precursor of what we’re going to see next week run game wise . . . a lot of power and some option. So, that’s good.”

It’s somewhat hard to gauge just how good this MRA team is or can be as the season nears the halfway point. After all, the Patriots have lost to three superior opponents by a combined score of 152-84 while defeating two inferior opponents by a combined score of 98-14. Perhaps the JA game will provide more of a definitive answer to that question.

“I think so,” Davis said. “I think that game will really tell us where we are as a team. It’s going to be a war, we know that. We’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and play well to win. It’s a big conference game, we need to get it.”