Patrick White goes for the ball while fellow Patriots and Raiders collide.
Patrick White goes for the ball while fellow Patriots and Raiders collide.
MADISON – Midway through the fourth quarter here Friday night, MRA offensive line coach Kenny Williams turned to quarterback Pierce Smith, patted him on the shoulder, and said “It’s one of those nights.”

It certainly was, and not in a good way.

Jackson Academy came away with four turnovers and also blocked a punt en route to a convincing 30-7 victory before a jam-packed crowd at Patriot Field, spoiling MRA’s homecoming and also breaking a three-game losing streak to the mistake-riddled Patriots in the process.

"We had way too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many blown assignments . . . lot of mistakes,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “You can’t beat a team like that playing the way we did tonight. We didn’t play very sharp. We’ve got to regroup and get better next week. Hats off to JA. They came in and wanted it, they played hard.”

JA quarterback Kinkead Dent threw three touchdown passes – a 79-yarder to EJ Mason in the first quarter to stake his team to an early 7-0 lead, and two more in the fourth quarter to help the Raiders pull away after MRA had pulled to within 10-7 with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Dent, a Manchester transfer, completed 5 of 11 passes for 168 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Walker Benner and a 26-yard scoring strike to Hunt Stevens to go along with the long bomb to Mason.

Meanwhile, MRA’s offense struggled. The Patriots were short-circuited by a season-high four turnovers - two fumbles and two interceptions, one of which was picked off by Noah Thigpen and returned 78 yards for a touchdown with just under four minutes remaining. The first fumble came late in the first half inside the JA 10-yard line with MRA trailing 10-0.

The punt block – the third MRA has allowed in the last three weeks – came at a critical juncture. The Patriots opened the second half with an impressive 14-play, 65-yard drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Bailey Rademacher to cut the deficit to 10-7. MRA’s defense came up with a stop on JA’s next possession, forcing a punt. However, deep in their own territory, the Patriots went three-and-out and were forced into a punting situation. JA blocked the punt and took over at the MRA 2-yard line. Three plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Raiders cashed in to take a 17-7 lead, killing what little momentum the Patriots had.

“That was a big play,” Davis said. “JA was solid. They did the little things right tonight, and that’s why they came out on top.”

No. 3 JA improved to 6-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference heading into next week’s game at PCS. No. 4 MRA dropped its second straight to fall to 5-3 and 0-2. The Patriots were flagged a season-high 12 times for 80 yards.

Up next? Jackson Prep. Yep, that Jackson Prep, the program chasing its record sixth straight state championship. The Patriots, 8-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play, are ranked No. 10 in The Clarion-Ledger Super 10 poll and No. 1 in the Academy AAAA poll. Prep has won 42 of their last 43 overall games, and has won 12 straight over MRA. MRA’s last win in the series came in the 2010 postseason.

"The playoffs are coming up . . . we’ve still got a chance to jockey for position for the playoffs if we can turn it around a little bit and get back to what I think we can be.”

MRA was without the services of second-leading rusher William Milam, who is nursing a sore back. Milam had 456 yards and six rushing touchdowns in the Patriots’ first seven games. He’s also got two touchdown passes to go along with a punt return and kickoff return touchdowns. Leading receiver Lee Tanner also sustained a leg injury in the first half, severely limiting his contributions. He only had one catch covering 16 yards, and that came on the Patriots’ third play from scrimmage. Josh Perkins played despite sitting out of practice all week with a hip injury. Safety Jace Correro, playing with a multitude of injuries including a torn ACL, also had to come off the field on a couple of occasions in the second half.

About the only highlight of the night – other than Smith’s touchdown pass, Jake Reeves’ 79 yards on 22 carries, and Davis Ferguson’s interception – was the crowning of a new homecoming queen. Those honors went to senior Aubree Dillon.