(Left) This is Jake Reeves when he was a ball boy and Ben Hutton was a star for the Patriots. Ben set the single-season rushing record record that year. (Right) Ben came back to watch Jake beat his record Friday night and the two caught up after the game.
(Left) This is Jake Reeves when he was a ball boy and Ben Hutton was a star for the Patriots. Ben set the single-season rushing record record that year. (Right) Ben came back to watch Jake beat his record Friday night and the two caught up after the game.
MADISON – Rewind back to the fall of 2008, the year Ben Hutton established MRA’s single-season rushing record. Jake Reeves was nine years old at the time, a giddy little ball boy watching every move the Patriots’ star running back made.

“I remember looking up to him so much,” recalled Reeves earlier this week. “I was such a big fan of his. He’s really my inspiration for playing running back.”

Ok, so now fast forward to Thursday night. All these years later, the script was flipped, as it was Hutton watching Reeves’ every move as Reeves, now a senior, chased his record in MRA’s regular season finale against PCS at Patriot Field. It was quite a scene, one taylor made for Hollywood. Except this one played out on a clear, cool Senior Recognition night in a Jackson suburb.

With his childhood hero cheering him on, Reeves not only broke Hutton’s single-season rushing mark, he shattered it. Needing 71 yards, Reeves rushed for 249 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns operating behind a dominant offensive line as the Patriots rallied for a key 42-23 victory over the visiting Bobcats.

Hutton came into the MRA locker room before the game, sought out Reeves, and wished him good luck. Then, early in the fourth quarter after Reeves called it a night, Hutton walked down from the stands, climbed the fence and came onto the field to give Reeves a hug. Special moment, special night indeed. For both.

“Before the game he gave me his blessing, and then when he came down onto the field he told me if somebody was going to break his record he was glad it was me,” Reeves said. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. It was an awesome night, really was. I’m very blessed.”

PCS hit MRA with a couple of big plays early, one in the running game and one in the passing game, to jump out to a 13-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. The Patriots overcame the slow start, however, as it handed things over to Reeves and the big boys up front – Matthew McCrory, Will Seabrook, Nicolas Rowan, Hayden Barksdale, and Patton Robinson. And they delivered in a big way. The defense also settled down, as MRA outscored PCS 42-10 the rest of the way to all but assure a home playoff game next week provided Jackson Academy beats Oak Forest tonight.

If that scenario plays out, as most expect it will, MRA will host PCS again next Friday night in what is surely a strange twist of events.

“That’s a scary feeling,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “We’ve got to enjoy this one this weekend, and flip the switch and come back with the same team next week. I’ve never done it back to back like that. I’ve done it within a couple of weeks before, but not back-to-back. It’s tough. You know they’re going to come in here with a little different attitude next week. Tonight, we just did what we do. We added a little wrinkle on a formation, but other than that we are who we are right now.”

Who MRA is included a whole lot of Reeves. In fact, the hard-running senior toted the ball a season-high 36 times, seven more than his previous high of 29 just last week in a win over Oak Forest. On the opening drive of the second half, Reeves carried the ball on all 10 plays, accounting for all 80 yards. The Patriots lined up in an I-formation and ran it straight at the PCS defense, old-school Big Ten style. The Bobcats had no answer. MRA finished with 280 yards rushing on 52 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. That paved the way for success in the passing game. Quarterback Pierce Smith, who struggled last week, bounced back completing 6 of 11 passes for 215 yards. All of those completions and yardage came in the first half, including a 77-yard touchdown pass to Bailey Rademacher. The Patriots only threw the ball once in the second half after compiling 376 yards of total offense in the first half.

“The big thing tonight we were able to run the football, and we got a little bit out of our passing game which catapulted us and helped us score some more points,” said Davis, whose club was once again without the services of leading receiver Lee Tanner (ankle) and second-leading rusher William Milam (back). That was big. The offensive line did a great job. It starts with those guys on both sides of the ball. That’s been our strength all year. They have really taken it to the next level the past couple of weeks, though, up front. They’re getting better every week. Pierce had a great week of practice, and he brought that confidence into tonight’s game. He did a good job. I’d like to have one of those passes back (INT on first pass), but other than that I thought he managed the game well and made some plays.”

Said Smith: “Being able to run the ball the way we did tonight makes it a whole lot easier on me. I felt much better tonight. When you’re back there and you don’t have to worry about some big dudes coming in there trying to kill you it makes it a whole lot easier to focus on the secondary. It’s all our O-line. We wouldn’t be nearly as good without them.”

No. 5 MRA finishes the regular season 7-4 overall, 2-3 in conference play. The Patriots have now won two straight after suffering through a three-game losing streak. PCS dropped to 6-5 and 1-4. The Bobcats have lost three of their last four and five of their last seven after a 4-0 start.

PCS finished with 349 yards total net offense, 186 rushing, 163 passing – 197 coming on the first three drives. The Bobcats managed only 152 net yards the rest of the night, 92 in the second half. And 30 of those yards came on one play, a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Thornton to Eric Robinson late in the third quarter. Defensively, MRA was without the services of Joe Perkins (leg injury), and once again played with a secondary which included a pair of junior high kids and one guy playing on a two bad feet and a torn ACL.

Oh, and don’t forget 8th-grade linebacker Stone Blanton, who recovered a fumble of a muffed punt at the PCS 5-yard line following another booming punt from Breckon Young, setting up one of Reeves’ five touchdowns.

“To keep our composure down early like that was big,” Davis said. “I’m really happy for our kids. We got on that three week stretch where it got bad, but our guys are really starting to come back.  Hats off to them. We only gave up one touchdown after the first four minutes, and then reeled off 42. If we don’t give up big plays we’re pretty dang good on defense. We gave up two early, and it wasn’t looking too good. But we got it turned around.”

Reeves jump-started the MRA comeback, scoring on a 9-yard run midway through the first quarter to pull the Patriots within six points, 13-7. That touchdown run was set up in large part due to his own 51-yard run three plays earlier. It was on that run he surpassed Hutton’s mark of 1,444 rushing yards. He would go on to add three touchdown runs of five yards and another covering eight yards for a total of five – tying the school record he now shares along with Andrew Berry and Karter Bounds.

Reeves’ second scoring run cut the PCS lead to 16-14, and his third gave MRA its first lead of the night at 21-16 less than four minutes into the second quarter. It’s a lead the Patriots would never relinquish.

“Every time we’re able to play with a high level of intensity we’re able to blow people off the ball and hammer it, run it down their throats,” McCrory said. “The biggest difference is we’re starting to fire off the ball better, and we’ve got the plays down now. We know if we can get to the backers, Jake is going to pick up big yardage. We take a lot of pride in him setting the record. We know the only way he can do his job is for us to do our job.”

Reeves totally agrees. In fact, the first thing he did while talking to a reporter afterwards was give credit to his offensive line.

“It’s all about the O-line,” he said. “Once they get in a rhythm it’s pretty much unstoppable. I have the easy part. I run away from people. They’ve got to go to people and make contact. They’ve got the hard part. I don’t do much. I just run. I owe it all to them honestly.”

Reeves has etched his name in the MRA record books. He now has 1,623 rushing yards this season to go along with 20 rushing touchdowns. On his career, Reeves has 2,960 rushing yards to go along with 37 rushing touchdowns. He will look to continue to build on those numbers next week in the opening round of the playoffs as the Patriots embark on what they hope is a fourth consecutive trip to the championship game.

Reeves also caught two passes covering 45 yards, and he squibbed a perfectly-executed onside kick in the first half. Yes, Reeves handles kickoffs. He also returned kickoffs, with Milam sidelined for the season. There’s no truth to the rumor he was also seen selling popcorn at one point, we don’t think at least.

“He had a big night, no doubt,” Davis said. “He’s a great competitor. He’s our leader. He’s a hard-nosed kid. We went to the I-formation about three weeks ago, and he’s really starting to get comfortable with it. I thought he did pretty good with it the first week, and then last week I thought he really attacked the line of scrimmage. He came back and did the same thing tonight. He was hitting it up in there and making one solid quick cut and getting vertical. I’m proud for him getting the record and all, and I’m proud of our team because this was a big win for us.”

Thursday night’s game marked Reeves’ 8th 100-yard+ game this season, and his third game of 200 yards or more. He had a career-high 275 yards earlier this season in a win at Copiah. Although nobody questions his toughness, his determination or his ability, many have been surprised by just how successful of a season he’s had. That includes his longtime friend, Breckon Young.

“Oh yeah, it’s been crazy,” he said. “I would have never expected it, especially looking back to his freshman and sophomore year. He’s always had the drive to do it, but I never saw this coming. It’s incredible. He brings energy to get better every day. The entire team feeds off of that.”

Reeves didn’t know anything about the record until last week. He’s been too busy toting the rock and eluding would-be defenders. He’s really not a guy that’s into personal accolades, he’s a team-first guy. However, he did admit he really wanted the record.

“My dad knew about it, I didn’t,” Reeves said. “He wasn’t going to tell me, but he messed up and told his friends and they all started talking to me about it. The first time I heard about it was last week, so it hasn’t been on my mind at all until this week, and that’s just because everybody was talking about it. I wanted to get it, I really did. But I knew if I went in thinking about it I may not get it. So I tried to play my game, and the offensive line did the same thing. That’s how it goes.”

As good a football player as Reeves is, he’s an even better young man off the field. An all-A student, Reeves is the MRA Wendy’s Heisman representative and a Wendy’s Heisman state finalist. He’s an AP scholar with honors. He’s also on the FCA leadership team, a member of the Student Leadership Institute, an active member of Young Life, and part of the Madison County Youth Leadership program. Somehow between school and sports – he’s also an all-conference soccer player and 2017 pole vault state champion – Reeves has been on mission trips to Boston, San Francisco and Malawi, Africa.

“He truly is a great kid,” Davis said. “I’ve enjoyed coaching him, and being around him.”

Reeves is thankful for the success he’s had not only this year but throughout his high school career, more so than most may imagine considering he nearly had to give up the sport he loves the most. A year ago, Reeves, who also used to play linebacker, started experiencing severe stingers in one of his shoulders. They were so painful he was forced to sit out three games. During that time period, he went to two different doctors.

“The first one told me I wasn’t ever going to be able to play football again,” Reeves said. “It was heartbreaking because I love the sport so much. We went to another doctor and he said that if I could live through the pain I should be able to play, as long as I could live through the pain. I told him I could take the pain. When it came down to making a decision, my parents let me make it. I decided if it was just going to be the pain I could take it. I wanted to keep playing and help out my team. Last year the pain was excruciating. It was so bad. But I was able to rest up this off-season, and I’ve been able to make it through the season up to this point. I thank God every day that he’s allowed me to play another year.”