EMPHIS – MRA was rocking and rolling early on Friday night here on the picturesque Briarcrest campus.

The Saints, however, sent the Patriots home singing the blues.

Displaying a well-balanced, harmonized offense led by the dynamic duo of Tyler Badie and Jackson Walker, Briarcrest erased an early 7-0 deficit with 27 unanswered points en route to a 27-7 intersectional victory over previously unbeaten MRA at Clayton Field.

Badie, a Memphis commit who is quick as a fired BB, was the king of the Chamber of Commerce evening, rushing for a game-high 146 yards on 24 carries. The 5-foot-10 senior running back had touchdown runs of 38 and 3 yards. His big-play ability drew the focus of the Patriots’ defense, which also led in part to Walker’s touchdown passes of 33 and 30 yards to wideouts Bradley Ellis and Chandler Montgomery, respectively.

“The running back is good, we knew that coming in,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said. “We missed some tackles on a couple of his long runs. . . we’ve got to tackle better. . . but I thought we did a pretty good job against him for the most part. Our safeties got caught peeking in the backfield a couple of times, and that’s when the quarterback (Walker) hurt us. Bottom line is they made the plays and we didn’t. There were six to eight plays in that game, maybe not even that many, that they made. That was the big difference in the game.”

Briarcrest, ranked No. 8 in The Commercial Appeal’s Dandy Dozen, improved to 3-0. The Saints have now outscored their first three opponents by a combined score of 120-35. MRA, ranked No. 2 in The Clarion-Ledger’s Academy AAAA poll, dropped to 2-1. It was the first rendezvous on the gridiron between the two highly-successful programs.

MRA’s first two opponents – Magnolia Heights and Pillow – were 2-and-barbeque against the Patriots, who won their first two games by a combined score of 89-6. This game – against a quality opponent on the road – figured to be a much tougher test. And it was. At times, it appeared MRA was hanging on for its life to one side of the Pyramid. At times, it seemed as if the Patriots were gaining traction and momentum. In the end, Briarcrest won by three touchdowns against a competitive MRA team, which provided more of a fight than the final score may indicate.

The Patriots (328) had nearly as many total yards offensively as did the Saints (351), had five more first downs (21-16) and actually had 10 more rushing yards (173-163) thanks to another big game from senior running back Jake Reeves (23 carries, 118 yards). Briarcrest, however, won the turnover battle 2-0, made the big plays when it needed them most, and kept MRA out of the end zone over the course of the last 36 minutes.

Untimely penalties and a handful of drops certainly didn’t help the Patriots’ cause.

“We didn’t execute on offense in the second half the way we needed to,” Davis said. “We moved the ball a little bit, but we’ve got to finish. We had too many penalties, too many missed assignments, and too many dropped passes. We’ve got a good football team, and we’re playing hard. It’s not like we’re not playing hard. We’ve just got to get better fundamentally, it’s not rocket science. Championship football teams can’t make the mistakes we keep making. We’ve just got to keep working at it to get better.”

Davis didn’t dig too deep into the playbook the past two weeks, but there was no more time for bluffing in the Bluff City. MRA unveiled an RPO-happy (run pass option) attack with quarterback Pierce Smith either handing off to backs Reeves and William Milam or dinking and dunking passes to different receivers. The Patriots looked good in the first quarter, controlling the game behind their offensive line as they ran 20 plays (84 net yards) compared to only four plays (12 net yards) for the Saints.

MRA capitalized on its second drive as Smith delivered FedEx ground style, darting into the end zone from five yards out. Smith (15-of-28, 155 yards, 1 INT) was intercepted in the end zone two plays prior to his scoring run, but Briarcrest was penalized for roughing the passer, giving Smith and the Patriots’ offense another shot. The Saints answered early in the second quarter as Badie scampered 38 yards for a touchdown. Leading 7-6, it appeared as if MRA was going to extend its lead by a touchdown on its next possession, but Milam was caught from behind in the open field and stripped of the football near the goal line (3-yard line). Briarcrest recovered the loose pigskin, and took over at its own 16-yard line after MRA was flagged for a late hit on the play

Eleven plays later, Walker connected with Ellis on a 30-yard scoring strike. So, instead of a Milam 40-yard scoring run and a touchdown lead, MRA now trailed 13-7. The score stayed that way at the half and deep into the third quarter. However, there was no questioning the momentum swung in the Saints’ favor after that crucial play. It should be noted MRA was flagged for a highly-questionable pass interference call on the third play of that series, on a third down no less, keeping the drive alive.

“That’s when the whole game swung,” Davis said of the fumble.

Briarcrest extended its lead to 20-7 with just under four minutes remaining on Badie’s short touchdown run, which capped an 82-yard drive highlighted by passes of 37 and 44 yards from Walker to Montgomery. Trailing by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter, Pierce was sacked on a 4th down play near midfield. Five plays later, Montgomery hauled in a perfectly thrown 33-yard touchdown pass from Walker to put his team up 27-7. Elvis had left the building.

After totaling 210 total yards (128 rushing, 82 passing) and 14 first downs in the first half, MRA managed only 118 yards (45 rushing, 73 passing) and seven first downs in the second half. Briarcrest bracketed MRA star receiver Lee Tanner (6 catches, 77 yards), making it difficult for Pierce to get him the ball. In addition, the ground game was forced to be put on ice as the Patriots fell behind by double digits. That’s not a good mix of circumstances for this year’s edition of MRA, which is not as equipped to play from behind as Davis’ past three squads despite an improved defense - especially on the road against a quality opponent such as Briarcrest.

“We can’t get caught in a situation where we have to throw it every down like we did in the second half,” Davis said. “We’ve got to get better from top to bottom on offense.”

A glass half empty person will point to the negatives coming out of this game. A glass half full person, meanwhile, will point to the positives. Reeves chose to be more optimistic than pessimistic afterwards.

“I think we played well honestly,” said Reeves, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in all three of MRA’s games this season. “The offensive line did as good as I could expect them to do. The defense made some big plays, but the plays they didn’t make killed us. That’s how it always is in big games. It’s those five or six plays that kill you, and they made those plays tonight and we didn’t. We had too many mental mistakes, just a lot of little stuff. We’ve got to improve there. Basically, they executed and we didn’t. And they’ve got a very good football team.”

MRA’s defense received a mental and physical boost from the return of senior safety Jace Correro, who played despite having a torn ACL in his left knee. He missed the Patriots’ first two games after sustaining the injury – thought to be season-ending – in MRA’s scrimmage against Franklin County the week prior to the season opener.

“It felt good to be back out there on the field with my teammates,” Correro said. “We could’ve played better, but I thought we played pretty good. They made the big plays and we didn’t, that was pretty much the story of the game.”

There was no time for a walk down Beale Street or a visit to Graceland for MRA’s players and coaches. No, it was straight back to Madison right after the game. The team arrived at the school in the wee hours of the night with the focus already shifted to Friday’s home game against Hartfield.

“It’s important that we bounce back next week,” Reeves said. “We need to learn from the mistakes we made tonight, but we don’t need to dwell on this game. We’ve got to put this one behind us, practice hard to get better, and get ready for the rest of the season.”