Jake Reeves barrels his way through defenders.
Jake Reeves barrels his way through defenders.
GALLMAN – The only thing missing from Jake Reeves’ final run here on Friday night was former ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman on the mic yelling, with enthusiasm, “He’s rumbling, bumbling, stumbling!”

Tired from a long, exhausting night at the office, Reeves somehow managed to stay on his feet and weave his way into the end zone on a scoring play covering 74 yards. While it wasn’t necessarily the most graceful run of his high school career – Reeves even joked about it himself afterwards - it was effective. Not only did the woozy-at-times scoring run cap a memorable performance for MRA’s tough-as-nails senior running back, it also put the finishing touches on the Patriots’ come-from-behind victory over Copiah.

Trailing in the second half for a second straight week and in dire need of something good to happen, MRA turned to its running game and Reeves and Co. delivered in a major way. The Patriots tallied a season-high and Herbert Davis era high 454 rushing yards – 333 coming in the second half – en route to an uneven 48-30 road victory on a muggy September night.

Reeves finished with a career-best 275 yards on 25 carries and five touchdowns, including the aforementioned long scoring run with just under six minutes remaining in the game that brought to mind, for some at least, one of Berman’s catch-phrases made famous from his days of reading off highlights as an anchor on SportCenter back in the day. It was a Bermanism usually reserved for, let’s say, more stout, less-polished runners.

Fortunately, Reeves could, and did, go all the way - without adding a ‘fumbling’ along the way to his school-record tying fifth TD run of the evening.

“I was struggling tonight, I don’t know what it was,” Reeves said, managing a smile. “That long run at the end got me. I almost fumbled, I almost tripped. I was doing everything to NOT score it seemed on that last one. Luckily, I was able to hang on to it and make it to the end zone.”

William Milam, Reeves’ backfield compadre, also got in on the fun. The junior jitterbug finished with a career-best 157 yards on 21 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. All but 11 of those yards came in the second half as MRA head coach Herbert Davis essentially eschewed the passing game and went almost exclusively to the running game. The Patriots lined up behind their big offensive line, sometimes with Reeves in the Wildcat formation, and pounded their way to their fourth victory of the season.

MRA ran the ball 34 times in the second half, and threw it only four times. In fact, the only catch standout receiver Lee Tanner had in the second half came courtesy of a well-thrown ball from one of the officials, who threw the ball to Tanner as he was making his way back to the MRA sideline. And that’s certainly no dig at the ultra-talented Tanner, only an illustration of how the second half played out. All seven of MRA’s touchdowns came on the ground, including a 6-yard scoring run from Tanner on a jet sweep.

Trailing 17-6, 17-14 at halftime and 23-21 just over four minutes into the second half, the Patriots outscored the Colonels 27-7 over a 16-minute stretch covering the third and fourth quarters to eventually pull away and preserve the harder-than-anticipated victory.

“We challenged them at halftime, it’s on you (offensive line),” Davis said. “We’re about to line up and we’re coming with it. We did some good things in the second half – 34 second half points – mainly running split back veer. The offensive line did a good job, our backs ran hard, and we were able to make some big plays. We felt like we had some things in the first half, but it was kind of like last week we missed some blocks, not executing. They didn’t change fronts, they gave us the same stuff. We just executed better in the second half, and I think we got them tired in the fourth quarter so that helped a bunch.”

MRA, ranked No. 5 in The Clarion-Ledger Academy AAAA poll, improved to 4-1 entering next week’s game at St. Stanislaus.

Copiah dropped to 2-3 and saw its modest two-game winning streak halted. The Colonels had struggled offensively for the better part of their first four games, managing only one touchdown combined in losses to Oak Forest (34-7) and Parklane (19-0). They had only 14 points in last week’s narrow win over River Oaks.

However, led by running back LaDarius Stovall (15 touches, 202 yards, 3 TDs), Copiah looked sharp offensively in the early going, scoring on three of its first four possessions to take a surprising 17-6 lead. The Colonels hit the Patriots’ defense with a handful of big plays throughout the night, including touchdown runs of 53 and 78 yards from Stovall and an 81-yard scoring pass from quarterback Eli McCrory to Dalton Hayles.

Stovall’s first touchdown run was the first points MRA has allowed in the first quarter this season. The McCrory-to-Hayles scoring strike gave Copiah its last lead, 23-21, and Stovall’s final scoring run pulled the Colonels to within five points, 35-30, with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game.

The game was eerily similar to MRA’s 39-14 home victory over out-manned Hartfield a week ago, a game in which the Patriots reeled off 26 unanswered points after trailing 14-13 midway through the third quarter. MRA found a way to win both games, but there’s no hiding the fact it has not performed to the level its coaching staff expects, nor to the level it displayed the first two-plus weeks of the season.

“Our guys need to understand we’ve got a good program, so we are going to get everybody’s best shot,” Davis said. “We’ve got to be ready. We can’t be looking down the road to the next week. That’s not what good teams do. Good teams are ready to play every week. I told them if we play like we’ve played the last two weeks we won’t win another game. Our schedule is about to step up big time, we’ll see if we’re going to be disciplined and get ready for the rest of our games.

“We’ve obviously got to go back and look and see what’s going on defensively,” Davis continued. “We may have to make some changes if we can’t get some guys making some plays for us in some spots. I don’t know. We’ve got to get back, watch the film and see what’s going on.”

Copiah forced MRA to punt on the opening possession of the second half. However, the Colonels fumbled the punt, giving the ball to the Patriots near midfield. That, along with the hard running of Reeves, seemed to ignite Davis’ club. MRA scored five plays later on a Reeves’ scoring run to take its first lead of the game, 21-17. Copiah answered right back to regain the lead before another short touchdown run from Reeves put the Patriots ahead to stay at 28-23.

“At halftime, Coach Davis gave us the same speech he gave us last week,” Reeves said. “There wasn’t a lot of yelling, it wasn’t a Coach Davis we’ve seen in the past. It was a calm Coach Davis. He just challenged us. The defense struggled some tonight, but offensively we accepted the challenge and we came out and did our job. We dominated running the ball like we know we can do if we get focused every week and try our hardest.”

Said Milam: “It seems like we always come out sluggish against teams like this. I really don’t know why. We call ourselves a second half team, but we’ve got to find a way to play better in the first half, especially against some of the teams we have coming up. We did do a much better job in the second half, though. The offensive line did a great job of opening up some holes, and we were able to run the ball well. Jake did a good job tonight. I think we’re a good duo back there. We feed off each other’s energy. It’s fun.”

It certainly was a fun night for Reeves, albeit a tiring one considering he also handles kickoffs and some of the PAT duties. He had scoring runs of 1, 4, 1, 8 and 74 yards while averaging 11 yards per carry. On his fourth touchdown run – the 8-yarder – he had to regain control of the loose football on the ground following a bad snap in the Wildcat formation, and still somehow managed to get into the end zone. He now has a team-high 698 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and his final run put him over the 2,000-yard mark in his career. Reeves has 2,035 yards and 28 career touchdowns, yet still seems to be unfairly underappreciated and undervalued in some quarters, at times, for whatever reason.

Certainly more performances like the one he turned in here on Friday night should help change that narrative. He’s one tough football player, and he’s one good back. Period. He has rushed for 100 or more yards - 200-plus twice – in every game except one this season. Ironically, he was coming off his worst performance of the season. He rushed for a season-low 50 yards on 14 carries and didn’t score against the Hawks as Milam took center stage with three touchdowns.

In a moment of good sportsmanship late in the game, Hayles, who was on defense for Copiah near the MRA sideline, spotted a resting Reeves and said: “Way to tote that ball #14.” 14, of course, is Reeves’ jersey number.

“We’re still looking for overall leadership to help this team step it up, but it was good to see some guys like him step up and make some plays,” Davis said. “You’ve got to give it to him, he played hard.”

MRA finished with 544 total yards, 348 of those coming in the second half. The Patriots also kept the chains moving in the second half, totaling 16 first downs over the last 24 minutes compared to only six first downs in the first half. The Patriots’ ground-dominated, ball-control offense also allowed them to keep the ball away from Copiah in the second half for the most part. MRA ran a total of 38 plays in the second half, compared to only 12 for the Colonels. Copiah had only two first downs in the second half, both coming via the long scoring plays.

“We found a way (to win), at least you can say that,” Davis said. “Even though we did some good things in the second half, we know we’re going to have to play much better than we have the past two weeks. Like I said earlier, it only gets tougher from here on out.”