MRA?defenders try to tackle Prep’s Ealy.
MRA?defenders try to tackle Prep’s Ealy.
FLOWOOD – Star tailback Jerrion Ealy garners most of the headlines when it comes to Jackson Prep’s football team. And rightly so.

Quarterback Chance Lovertich isn’t too shabby, either. In fact, he’s good. Really good. He demonstrated that once again here Friday night, stealing the show in Jackson Prep’s 50-14 victory over visiting MRA.

Lovertich, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, accounted for 358 yards of total offense and tossed five touchdown passes. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 290 yards, and also rushed for 68 yards on seven carries, including a 27-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, setting up Prep’s final touchdown. He was especially lethal in the second half, completing all seven of his pass attempts for 183 yards to go along with three touchdowns after MRA had cut a 15-point halftime deficit down to eight early in the third quarter.

“He’s very mobile . . . he can move out of the pocket and make things happen with his legs and his arm,” MRA safety Jace Correro said. “That really hurt us.”

On a night in which MRA was determined not to let Ealy be the deciding factor, Lovertich was. Prep’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes added five more to his glowing resume on this night, tossing scoring passes of 10, 23, 9, 31 and 91 yards. His third touchdown pass – a 9-yarder to Landon Wilbanks with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter – best encapsulated his all-around skills. Nobody was open on the play initially, so he scrambled around to buy time, and rolling to his right, with a defender in his face, he calmly floated a perfectly-placed pass to Wilbanks in the end zone.

That Lovertich-to-Wilbanks scoring connection was huge at the time for Prep as it provided a quick answer after MRA had cut the lead to 22-14 just over three minutes into the second half. It marked just the second time this season an opponent has been within single digits of Prep in the second half this entire season. Prep led Forest 7-3 at halftime, and scored another touchdown in the third quarter to go ahead 14-3 en route to an 11 point victory.

“(Lovertich) is the best quarterback in the league,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said.

Five-time reigning state champion Prep, ranked No. 10 in The Clarion-Ledger Super 10 poll and No. 1 in the Academy AAAA poll, improved to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play. The Patriots have won 14 straight and 43 of their last 44 games.

No. 5 MRA dropped its third straight since a huge road win at Class 4A St. Stanislaus on September 22 to fall to 5-4 and 0-3. The Patriots have now lost 13 straight in the series, with their last win coming in the 2010 postseason.

Despite the final 36-point margin, Davis came away feeling much better about his team than he did entering the game. It speaks volumes to not only how good Prep is, but also to how poorly MRA played in last week’s lackluster 30-7 homecoming loss to Jackson Academy.

“(Jackson Prep) has a great football team, hats off to them,” Davis said. “I know we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we came out and played hard. I was proud of our attitude tonight. I saw some physicality, which we haven’t seen the past couple of weeks. I’m very proud of that. We decided we were going to come in and play hard no matter what the score was from the beginning to the end, and I thought we did that for the most part, except for a few players right toward the end of the game. If we had played like this last week, we would’ve had a chance to win the football game. We’ve got to fix some things in the secondary, though. We just can’t continue to give up plays like that in the passing game.”

MRA, for the first time this year, opened up in the I-formation with leading rusher Jake Reeves lined up behind burly defensive end/tight end/running back Sam Shufelt. The Patriots found success with the new look, compiling 218 yards on the ground while averaging nearly five yards per carry. Reeves, a determined runner who has enjoyed a splendid senior season statistically, finished with 174 yards on 27 carries and scored both of MRA’s touchdowns.

Reeves caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Pierce Smith late in the second quarter, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive, and his 1-yard scoring run early in the third quarter capped an 8-play, 80-yard drive. That’s the only points MRA could muster, however, against a Prep defense that came into the game allowing only 7.5 ppg. MRA also turned the ball over twice, one fumble and one interception, both leading to Prep touchdowns.

Reeves has now rushed for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Currently standing at 2,572 career rushing yards, Reeves has a chance to eclipse the 3,000 yard mark as MRA has a minimum of three games remaining. With second-leading rusher William Milam (back injury) out for the season and leading receiver Lee Tanner slowed by a bum ankle as of late, Reeves has evolved into the focal part of the offense even more so.

“We had one of our most intense, best weeks of practice this week,” Reeves said. “And we needed that. The effort was there tonight, and we executed better this week, but it’s just those three to four plays – just like last week – that kill the whole game. If we can continue to improve as much as we improved this week as the year goes on, we will be a different team by the end of the season.”

Said Correro: “We got better tonight.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Prep’s quick-strike offense, which entered averaging 45.8 ppg. Even with Ealy having a sub-par game on the ground by his lofty standards – he was limited to negative net yardage on just three carries in the second half after gaining 102 yards on 11 carries in the first half – Prep managed to score seven touchdowns. Three of those came in a 2 minute, 18 second blitzkrieg in the second quarter to help Prep build a 22-7 halftime lead, and three more came in a five-minute stretch in the second half – including a 91-yard touchdown pass from Lovertich to Ealy.

Lovertich completed passes to six different receivers.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons on offense,” Reeves said. “(Lovertich) doesn’t feel pressure when he’s in the pocket. He stays calm the whole time, and that’s a great attribute for a quarterback to have. He’s a great athlete, and a great quarterback.”

Prep finished with 488 yards of total offense – 198 yards rushing, 290 passing. The Patriots had 240 yards in the second half on just 15 plays. Meanwhile, MRA finished with 304 total yards – 218 rushing, 86 passing.

MRA has advanced to the state championship game in each of Davis’ first three seasons. The road to a possible fourth straight title game appearance seemingly gets tougher and tougher with each passing week, and with each loss. The Patriots will attempt to return to the winner’s circle next Friday when they host Oak Forest, which knocked off previously unbeaten and second ranked Parklane 21-14 on Friday night in Amite, La. MRA concludes the regular season the following Thursday when it hosts PCS.

“We’ve got to continue to work to get better,” Davis said. “I challenged our guys to come in Monday with a good attitude and be ready to work. We’ve still got a long season ahead of us if we want to make it that way. We need to get Lee healthy, we need to do a better job of protecting our quarterback, and like I said earlier we’ve got to find a way to shore up our secondary.”