Lee Tanner
Lee Tanner
GREENWOOD – As MRA scat back/return specialist William
     Milam took the field to return a punt in the second quarter here Friday night, Patriots’ center Matthew McCrory looked at him and playfully said “Go get me one.”

Moments later, Milam did just that.. The shifty junior fielded the punt around his 25-yard line, broke a would-be tackle, found a seam near the visiting sideline and was off to the races, scampering 75 yards for a touchdown. It was one of three touchdowns on the night for Milam, highlighting an easy 40-6 victory over Pillow at mosquito-plagued Bill Davis Field.

Milam also had touchdown receptions of 15 and 32

 yards, all coming in the first half as MRA raced to a 40-0 halftime lead en route to its second straight blowout victory of the young season. He was relatively quiet in last week’s 49-0 season-opening win over Magnolia Heights, with only 21 yards on two carries.

“It was good to see him get back in the flow this week and make some big plays for us,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said. “He’s a guy capable of making big plays for us, and we’re going to need him to make more of those – along with Jake (Reeves) – as the season goes along.”

It must be something about the green and gold of Pillow that brings out the best in Milam, who also had a 51-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Mustangs a year ago. He has been slowed by lingering tightness in his hamstrings and lower back, not that it was evident in his play on Friday night.

If anything, Milam’s performance served as a reminder of just how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands. Both of his scoring receptions were thrown by quarterback Pierce Smith, and both were on perfectly-executed wheel routes out of the backfield. He was wide open each time.

“It felt good to be able to make some big plays tonight, and help my team to a win,” said the soft-spoken Milam. “I feel fine. I just have to make sure that I stretch more, and it will be good.”

Milam was certainly good on this night, nicely filling his role of complementary backfield role alongside senior Jake Reeves, who had another big night with 104 yards and three touchdowns – all coming in the first half. Reeves had touchdown runs of 20, 5 and 10 yards, pushing his total to five on the season. He also had a 40-yard reception, setting up his second touchdown.

Pierce, a transfer from Madison Central making his second start, had another solid game. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 181 yards, including the touchdown passes to Milam. Senior wideout Lee Tanner had three catches for 99 yards, displaying the ability to pick up additional yardage after the catch each time with nifty moves in the open field.

MRA eclipsed the 400-yard mark in total offense for the second straight week. The Patriots had 401 total yards – 229 passing, 172 rushing – with 391 coming in the first half. The clock ran without stoppage in the second half due to the large halftime margin.

“I was excited to see us do some good things offensively,” said Davis, who served two seperate stints as Pillow’s head coach prior to his arrival at MRA four years ago. “Pierce has some playmakers around him, he just has to get the ball to them, and he did that tonight. He’s doing a good job of getting the ball where it’s supposed to be on time, and making the right decisions.”

After rotating series with fellow newcomer Brock Morris at quarterback in Week 1, Smith took the majority of the snaps against Pillow. In two starts, he has completed 15 of 19 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions. He also showed a little speed of his own on an option play late in the second quarter, faking the handoff and scampering 56 yards to set up Reeves’ third touchdown.

“I ran out of gas on that one,” Smith said, with a chuckle. “I’ve never been known to be too fast.”

MRA, 2-0 and ranked No. 2 in The Clarion-Ledger Academy AAAA poll, has made fast work of its first two opponents. The Patriots have a combined halftime lead of 75-0 and have won by a combined margin of 89-6 against out-manned teams. So, so far so good. Next week doesn’t figure to be nearly as easy when Davis’ club hits the road to take on Briarcrest Christian, one of the top programs in the Memphis area. The Saints, 2-0, are loaded on offense with quality skill players galore and a big O-line to boot. They are averaging 46.5 points per game in wins over White Station and Goodpasture.

Pillow dropped to 0-2.

“The first two games have been pretty easy, but we know we have a much bigger test ahead of us next week,” Milam said.

Said Davis: “Briarcrest has a very talented football team, and they are so well-coached. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, no doubt. But that’s why we’re going up there.”

Pillow’s lone points came late in the third quarter courtesy of a 4-yard touchdown run from running back Floyd Melton following an MRA fumble – the Patriots’ first turnover of the season. On the flip side, MRA’s defense came away with four takeaways – two fumbles, two interceptions. Three of those led to MRA touchdowns, and two came inside the 6-yard line, denying the Mustangs of golden scoring opportunities each time.

Coupled with one takeaway in the season-opener and

 34 a season ago, MRA now has 39 takeaways in its last 15 games games. The Patriots have forced a total of 13 turnovers during a current three-game winning streak over the Mustangs.

“That’s a big part of what we do,” MRA defensive end John Cartwright said. “We work on it every day in practice. We like getting off the field, and getting the ball back to our offense.”

If you’re looking for a not-so-silver lining it’s the fact that Pillow amassed 208 net rushing yards on 36 carries (5.7 yards per carry). Melton had 192 of those on 20 carries, including runs of 56 and 33 yards. While Melton is a quality back who runs hard, he’s not on the same level as Briarcrest running back Tyler Badie, a Memphis commit with 4.46 speed who has rushed for six touchdowns in the Saints’ first two games.

“We had too many blown assignments tonight defensively,” Davis said. “We were able to somewhat get away with tonight, but we won’t be able to do that next week. We’ve got to get that fixed. (Badie) is special.”

Back to Milam. He rushed for 581 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago as a sophomore while basically tag-teaming the running back position along with the now-departed Andrew Berry and Reeves. He enjoyed perhaps his finest moment on Senior Night last October, rushing for 102 yards on 19 carries while subbing for an injured Reeves, including the late go-ahead 26-yard touchdown run to lift the Patriots to a 21-14 victory over Washington.

“When you can get him in open space, he’s dangerous,” Tanner said. “He’s a threat to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball.”

That was evident on the punt return, which was helped set up in large part due to an excellent kick out block from Ridge Futral.

“I caught it, and there were two guys coming right at me,” he said. “I was able to break a tackle, and after that it was just a matter of me beating the guys to the outside and I did.”

As for those mosquitos?

“Those aren’t mosquitos those are birds,” MRA defensive lineman/tight end Lew Davis said, with a laugh.