During the course of the third millennium, the story of MPSA AAA, Division I football (AAAA in 2001) has been about Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy.

The rising action, conflict and climax have always been the same, and the resolution has gone Jackson Academy’s way three out of the last four years.

The rising action: each school fields a solid football team capable of winning state – if the other weren’t there, at least. The conflict: both teams roll through the regular season with few bumps except for the regular-season meeting after which one team will have bragging rights until the championship. The climax is, of course, the state championship game at Mississippi College.

This year is no different.

The Raiders haven’t owned the all-time series by any stretch, as the Patriots hold a 20-8 record against JA. But the teams have met for the state championship eight times, and the Raiders have taken home five of those titles.

Only five classes of seniors who played three years of varsity football at Jackson Prep have failed to win a state championship, but with JA winning in 2003 and 2004, this could be No. 6.

“I think you’ve got to have a mindset and focus on the things that can happen good for you,” said Prep head coach Ricky Black, who doesn’t want his seniors thinking about losing three straight championships and five straight overall losses to JA.

But the Patriots’ senior group has gotten plenty of help this year from the underclassmen. Quarterback Nick Schneeberger and running back Bryant Salmon, both sophomores, have been big contributors.

Schneeberger has thrown for 1,164 yards on the year with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while Salmon has been the team’s main rushing threat.

Upperclassmen Mark McVey and Stewart Hood, both seniors who play both ways, have helped shoulder the load this year.

McVey, listed as a 185-pound linebacker, also does the kicking for the Patriots. He’s second on the team in rushing with 334 yards throughout the regular season. While Salmon led the team in that department with 742 yards, McVey found the end zone a team-leading 12 touchdowns on the ground. McVey will have to play with a protective cast on his arm, but Black said he should still be able to get some carries.

Hood has had a balance of carries and catches on the year. He rushed 66 times for 263 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and caught 16 balls for 279 yards and five scores.

“Ever since I’ve been in junior high, Prep’s been to the championship game,” Hood said. “All of us are just ready to get a ring.”

Wallace McLaurin, a senior tight end who led the team in receptions with 20 and receiving yardage with 334, said the rivalry was intense on the field, but not off.

“The fact that everybody’s grown up together – little kids go to church together, it gets pretty heated,” he said.

JA junior Chaz Ramsey had plenty of good things to say about the upcoming opponent.

“They’re a bunch of good friends of ours,” he said. “We hang out all the time.”

He added that there’s no ill will from either side, “But they’re ready to get back at us after us beating them.”

“It’s not a community against a community; it’s more like cousin against cousin or brother against brother,” Black added.

But even brothers can get sick of each other. Hood said it can get personal in the weeks surrounding the game.

“Some people you thought were your friends, during the game, you’re not so sure,” he said lightheartedly.

McLaurin pointed out that the Patriots have done a good job of setting the tempo of the game early since notching a 9-7 win over Hillcrest. In the regular-season game against JA, that wasn’t the case. In that game, the Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and held on to win 28-23.

But Black said his team, which is 9-2, has come a long way since that game in Jackson, describing his team as more confident and more mature.

With Hurricane Katrina essentially moving the game back two weeks because of the Thanksgiving break, both teams got to practice a little more.

“I thought our players really responded well,” Black said. “In some ways, it seems like it’s been two months, not two weeks, since we’ve played.”

Raiders coach Joey Hawkins seemed equally anxious to get on the field. JA has won its last 23 football games dating back to last year and enters the contest a perfect 12-0 on the season.

“We’ve got to play our very best to beat them,” said Hawkins, who certainly won’t say that his team is unstoppable. “They’re defense is so stingy, and they’re so quick at getting to the football, we’ve got to make a big play.”

The Raiders went untested until they faced Prep the fourth game of the season. From there, it was Starkville Academy in week five, which JA beat 28-24, and Briarcrest, a defending state champ in Tennessee, which JA defeated 27-13.

“Playing those close games really helped us a lot,” Hawkins said.

Ramsey, an offensive and defensive lineman, said he feels like the starters have four-quarter experience because of those games.

Hawkins has a more senior-laden team, and even Black admits that the Raiders are a more mature team. Joe Greenlee, a senior and first-year JA player, has quarterbacked the Raiders through most of the snaps this year.

“Ever since I’ve been to JA, they’ve been talking about JA and Prep every year,” he said.

Greenlee has been extremely efficient, throwing for 15 touchdowns with only one interception on the year. He’s also rushed for four scores and caught a touchdown pass.

On the ground, junior Nathan Jew has done most of the work this year, with senior Benji Maher getting some of the tough yardage.

“We’re going to have to get physical on the offensive line, and they’re (Jew and Maher) going to have to be physical and break some tackles,” Hawkins said.

But just like the outcome of the game, no one can predict how many tackles will be broken or how many points will be scored. The conclusion to the 2005 story, which seems more like a sequel, will be written Friday at 7 p.m.