Jake Reeves holds onto the ball as Magnolia Heights players descend upon him.
Jake Reeves holds onto the ball as Magnolia Heights players descend upon him.
MADISON – MRA's offense sputtered in a jamboree two weeks ago, and then broke down in last week's scrimmage.
    It wasn't just a flat tire, either. The steering column was messed up. The wheels weren't balanced. And there were major issues with the GPS. Major work needed to be done, so much so fourth-year MRA head coach Herbert Davis said the Patriots' offense was in dire need of a tune-up.

Not sure what local repair shop Davis went to, or who the mechanic was. But, needless to say, the job was done correctly. And in a timely fashion.

One week removed from being shut out and left for dead on the side of the road, MRA looked like a well-oiled machine in its season-opener on a muggy Friday night, cruising past Magnolia Heights 49-0 at Patriot Field. With new quarterbacks Pierce Smith and Brock Morris rotating series behind the wheel, the Patriots totaled 414 yards of total offense – 249 rushing, 165 passing – and scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions.

Granted, the competition level wasn't the same. Magnolia Heights in no way compares to Franklin County talent wise. Still, there was marked improvement in the overall operation offensively. MRA scored on all five first half drives in building a commanding 35-0 lead, setting into motion a running clock in the second half.

"We got a little wakeup call last week on a few things, but our guys came to work this week and got better," said Davis, who picked up his 30th victory at MRA. "The difference was we executed tonight. I still see some things we need to get better at, but if our guys will continue to improve like I've challenged them to do, we've got a chance to do some good things. And I thought we did some good things tonight. Again it all goes back to us executing better."

Smith, a junior who transferred to MRA from Madison Central, drew the start at quarterback. He completed 8 of 9 passes for 131 yards in his debut – all in the first half – including touchdown passes of 24 and 34 yards to wideout Lee Tanner. He also added a 9-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter before calling it a night. Morris, a sophomore transfer from Germantown, completed 2 of 4 passes covering 35 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to a diving Joe Perkins – a highly-touted newcomer from Murrah making his first start in an MRA uniform.

"The first drive there were some butterflies, but after that I felt pretty good," Smith said. "I give it all to my O-line, they played great tonight."

For now, Davis is giving both signal-callers a chance to drive his truck. Eventually, though, he hopes to hand over the keys to one of them primarily.

"I thought they both did a lot of good things," said Davis, when asked afterward about his two quarterbacks. "Pierce had a good game, that's probably the best he's looked. I thought last week he was kind of nervous. I thought tonight he was eager to play, and he played well. And Brock came in and made some nice plays, too. It makes it much easier on them when the offensive line blocks the way they did tonight. And it was good to see that when we handed the ball off we got good results there, as well."

Namely that would be senior running back Jake Reeves, who rushed for 201 yards on 10 carries, including touchdown scampers of 68 and 35 yards. He had back-to-back runs of 19 and 37 yards while playing quarterback, setting up the Patriots final touchdown - a 14-yard scoring run from 8th-grader Stone Blanton with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.

"(Playing quarterback) caught me off guard a little bit," Reeves said, with a big smile. "The coaches surprised me a little bit with that one, but they asked me if I wanted to go in and play and I told them I'm always ready to play. If felt good to be back on the field playing again, and it felt really good running the ball again, and getting into the open field like I did tonight. That was fun."

Reeves is MRA's leading returner rusher from last season. He ran for 861 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago and was a key cog in the Patriots' third consecutive run to a State championship game. While Reeves was doing all of his damage on the ground, Tanner was doing his via the air. The senior receiver picked up right where he left off from a season ago, hauling in five catches for 94 yards and the two aforementioned touchdown grabs. A year ago, Tanner had a team-high 62 catches for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdown receptions.

"Both of those guys made some big plays for us tonight," Davis said. "Jake saw it well tonight. He did a good job of hitting the holes, and he made some really good cuts. The two big runs he had, it was the same play, one time he reads it, hits it, and bounces outside the tackle. Then, the next time, he bends it all the way behind the backside tackle. That's great vision on his part, and really good blocking up front, of course. And you talk about Lee, he's a guy who can go get it."

Tanner liked what he saw out of both quarterbacks, as well as the offense as a whole.

"Things came together for us," he said. "It all goes back to this week at practice, and all the work we put in to get better. When you look at it, I think (both quarterbacks) can get the job done. They did tonight. It was a lot of fun out there. I'd probably give us a B because I think we still have a lot of room to improve, and we've got a tough schedule coming up. We'll see how it goes."

MRA will be on the road for five of its next six games, starting with next Friday's game at Pillow.

"Pillow is going to have a good team," Davis said. "They'll be well-coached, and it's always tough to play up there. We'll have to pick it up for sure."

Speaking of picking it up, the MRA defense did just that. Danny White's gang pitched a shutout and allowed only 87 net yards – proving to be just as good as advertised in the preseason. The Patriots also came up with their first takeaway of the young season, this after a season in which they forced 34 turnovers a year ago.

"The defense did a great job tonight," Davis said. "If there was anything that I didn't like tonight it was that we had some dumb penalties, and at times I thought we got pushed around a little bit. We've got to get our pad level a little lower, and do a little bit better at linebacker and safety on some of those inside runs. But we'll look at it on film and get better in that area."

Davis Ferguson, who transferred to MRA from East Rankin a year ago, was one of many players who stood out defensively for MRA. It was the first time Ferguson has suited up for a football game since 9th grade. He played baseball last year, but didn't arrive at MRA in time to play football.

"It reminded me of those Thursday nights when I played in the ninth grade," Ferguson said, grinning. "It took me back. It was a lot of fun. I've been looking forward to this since I moved here."

The MRA coaching staff made a concerted effort this offseason to put more speed on the field defensively. That speed was evident Friday night.

"I felt like we did a pretty good job." said junior Ridge Futral, who moved from safety to linebacker. "We hawked to the ball for sure. We've just got to continue to work on our assignments and knowing where we're supposed to be on every play. Right now our front four is making it easy on the linebackers. It's a real fun defense to be a part of because you know when you get to the ball there's going to be other people right there behind you."