Jake Reeves gets tripped up by a defender.
Jake Reeves gets tripped up by a defender.
MADISON – Lee Tanner loathed being sidelined the past couple of weeks. MRA’s standout wide receiver basically had no choice, however. A high ankle sprain saw to that.

There was no way he was sitting out Friday night, though, not with it being the first round of the playoffs and the last home game of his high school career. Oh, by the way, it was also his 18th birthday.

Tanner celebrated his return and his birthday in a major way, hauling in seven catches for 135 yards, including a pair of touchdown receptions, as MRA blew out the candles on PCS’ season with a 28-23 victory under a full moon at Patriot Field.

 “He was probably the difference in the game tonight,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “There’s no doubt we were glad to have him back. He made three or four unbelievable catches. He bailed us out a few times with some big-time catches.”

Tanner’s big night, coupled with yet another stellar performance from senior running back Jake Reeves (40 carries, 200 yards, 1 TD) and a stout defensive effort against the run enabled MRA to earn its second victory over PCS in the span of the last nine days. The Patriots defeated the Bobcats 42-23 last Thursday on the same turf in the regular season finale for both teams.

Yardage and points were harder to come by for both teams in the sequel, especially for MRA, which had 28 points by halftime a week ago. The Patriots seemingly were on the verge of their second consecutive double-digit victory over the Bobcats, leading 28-10 with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, PCS didn’t go away quietly on this night. The Bobcats scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull to within five points, causing a little concern among the Patriot faithful.

No worries. MRA, as it had most of the night, turned to Reeves and the offensive line to put the game on ice. The Patriots were able to pick up three first downs and run off the final 4 minutes, 58 seconds to escape with the hard-fought win.

 “It’s very hard playing a team two weeks in a row, and it’s even harder trying to beat the same team two weeks in a row,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said. “I knew they would come in and do some things different. We found a way to win, that’s the main thing. They got after us in the second and made some plays . . . we didn’t make as many. But we made enough to win, and that’s all that matters right now. I’m very, very proud of these guys, especially the seniors. We challenged them before the game to go out a winner in their last home game, and they did a great job.”

MRA improved to 8-4 and advances to next week’s semifinals against top-ranked Jackson Prep. The Patriots have now won three straight since suffering through a three-game losing streak that followed perhaps their biggest win of the year to date – at Class 4A St. Stanislaus.

PCS finished 6-6 despite a big night from wideout Eric Robinson (6 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs). The Bobcats lost four of their last five and six of their last eight games.

 Tanner and Reeves are two of those MRA seniors. While Reeves has somehow managed to stay mostly injury-free despite an increased workload the past few weeks, Tanner couldn’t escape the injury bug. He suffered a high ankle sprain early in the Jackson Academy game four weeks ago, and it’s been a long road back. He played the following week at Jackson Prep, although he wished he hadn’t after the fact. He only had one catch in that game as Prep won going away. He then sat out the last two regular season games against Oak Forest and PCS, all the while looking ahead to Friday night’s first-round playoff game.

“Sitting out was hard,” Tanner said. "It’s just crazy that it happened my senior year. I’ve never been hurt before this year, and then I injured my ankle . . . so close to playoffs. It’s been a lingering injury. But it feels really good right now. I’ve been doing a lot of rehab, and it’s gotten to where it needs to be.''

As happy as Tanner was about being back in uniform, his teammates and coaches were perhaps even more delighted about his return, especially quarterback Pierce Smith (12-of-19, 171 yards, 3 TDs).

“It makes my life a whole lot easier,” Smith said. “He knows how to go up and get the ball.”

 Tanner demonstrated that on more than one occasion on Friday. He hauled in six catches for 119 yards, including touchdown receptions of 4 and 19 yards in the first half alone. He only had one catch in the second half, but it loomed large. After PCS had cut the lead to 11 points, 28-17, early in the fourth quarter on the second of Robinson’s two long touchdown receptions, and with MRA backed up inside its own 10-yard line facing a 3rd and 11, Tanner high-pointed and reeled in a pass from Smith for a 16-yard gain. Reeves scampered for 35 yards on the very next play, giving the Patriots some breathing room and more favorable field position.

If Tanner doesn’t make that catch, who knows? MRA, at worst, would’ve had to punt from its own end zone, likely giving PCS the ball on a short field. As it was, PCS was able to tack on another touchdown, but the scoring drive took nearly four minutes. The Patriots, who had three lengthy scoring drives and dominated time of possession courtesy of their potent running attack, then recovered the onside kick and were able to stave off the Bobcats’ comeback bid.

 “That was a big catch, no doubt,” Davis said.

 While one can argue that was Tanner’s most crucial catch, his most impressive had to be his 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Tanner went up between two PCS defenders in the front of the end zone and somehow came down with a floating pass from Smith.

“I passed the corner, and I saw the safety coming. I knew I was about to get popped, so I just had to go up and get it, and I ended up coming down with it,” said Tanner, sounding as if he was just as surprised and impressed as everyone else about that particular scoring reception.

Tanner now has 51 catches for 767 yards to go along with seven touchdowns this season. For his career, he has 113 catches for 1,815 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Smith’s other touchdown pass went to senior Bailey Rademacher, a 15-yarder capping an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the second half. The Patriots led 28-10 at that point.

“I didn’t like the fact that we let them get that close there near the end,” Reeves said. “We dominated the game. We shouldn’t have let them get that close. I felt like if we could’ve scored another touchdown in the second half, we could’ve put them away. But we weren’t able to do that. We let them hang around. You have to give PCS a lot of credit. They kept fighting and made a game out of it.”

Reeves once again did his part, eclipsing the 200-yard mark for the fourth time this season and second time in as many weeks. He rushed for 249 yards and tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in last week’s win over PCS, shattering the school single-season rushing record in the process. His lone touchdown of the game came in the first quarter. It was a 3-yard run, set up by a 42-yard reception from Tanner on the previous play.

He had 66 yards on 17 carries in the first half, and 134 yards on 23 carries in the second half. The 40 carries were a season-high for Reeves, who has now run the ball 76 times in the past two weeks, 132 times over the past four weeks and 181 times over the course of the past six weeks. His workload has increased in the absence of Tanner and second-leading rusher William Milam, who was lost to a season-ending back injury.

Most of Reeves' carries were of the straight lead or toss sweep variety out of an I-formation.

“He’s a warrior,” Davis said. “He just won’t be denied.”

Reeves had to take himself out of the game early in the second quarter after taking an inadvertent knee. He was able to return, although he said he was never quite the same after that play.

“I was on the ground and someone fell on top of me,” Reeves explained. “His knee went underneath my pads and I couldn’t breathe . . . I got hit while I was on the ground. Nothing big. I just needed to come out for a little bit. I really never caught my breath the rest of the night. I was tired the whole night because of that. And I’ve been sore all week, and that never really wore off. I’m going to try to get in over the weekend and get an ice bath. Maybe it will help for next week.”

Reeves now has 1,823 rushing yards to go along with 21 rushing touchdowns this season, and 3,160 yards and 38 touchdowns on his career. That career, as well as the career of his fellow seniors, was extended for at least one more game. That game will take place next week in Flowood against a familiar foe in Prep, who had the night off thanks to a bye.

Prep, 11-0, is ranked No. 9 in The Clarion-Ledger’s Super 10 poll and No. 1 among Academy Class AAAA schools. The Patriots, winners of 16 straight and 45 of their last 46 games, are two wins away from a record sixth consecutive state championship. They have won 13 straight over MRA, including a 50-14 victory earlier this season. MRA’s last win in the series came in the 2010 postseason.

“We’re going to go over there next week and play our game and see what happens,” Davis said.

MRA finished with 379 yards of total offense against PCS – 208 rushing, 171 passing. The Patriots ran a total of 68 plays, and kept the chains moving with 22 first downs. Meanwhile, PCS totaled 247 net yards – 162 passing, 85 rushing.  The Bobcats managed only 11 first downs, one of which came courtesy of quarterback Brandon Thornton’s 21-yard scoring scamper with just under five minutes remaining.

Many of the seniors fought back tears after the game as they were surrounded by teammates, family members and friends, realizing they had played their final game at Patriot Field.

“There were some guys who got emotional,” Tanner said. “But we’ve still got a little bit of work left to do.”