MRA defenders swarm an Oak Forest ball carrier.
MRA defenders swarm an Oak Forest ball carrier.
AMITE, La. – MRA scored a pair of early touchdowns here Friday night and, at the time, looked as if it would cruise to yet another lopsided victory.

Au contraire.

Little did the Patriots know, they would also need one more score, plus a goal line stand, a little good fortune, and another late stop to escape with a hard-earned, physically-demanding 21-7 victory over homestanding Oak Forest in their regular season finale.

“Obviously, looking back at it, those first two scores were huge,” MRA head coach Herbert Davis said.

MRA concluded the regular season 10-2 overall, 5-0 in conference play with its fifth consecutive win. The Patriots earned a first-round playoff bye, meaning they will be off this upcoming week prior to hosting the Parklane-Oak Forest quarterfinal winner at Patriot Field in two weeks.

Oak Forest, winners of five straight coming in, dropped to 7-4, 2-3.

Davis now has 59 wins in this his sixth year at MRA. His team is 22-3 overall the past two seasons – 22-2 in the regular season – and undefeated at home during that time period. He hopes to get win No. 60 in two weeks, and win No. 61 the following week in the MSAIS Class 6A championship game at Mississippi College’s Robinson-Hale Stadium.

Davis knows it won’t come easy, however. Oak Forest is the likely opponent, although Parklane has narrowly lost to No. 2 seed Jackson Prep (31-28 2OT) and No. 3 seed Jackson Academy (15-14) in recent weeks. The Yellowjackets defeated Parklane 41-22 during the regular season, and will host the quarterfinal playoff game here where plenty of good Cajun home cooking is served.

An MRA win would put the Patriots in the title game opposite the winner of the other semifinal pitting Jackson Academy vs. seven-time reigning champion Jackson Prep. Both of those teams are also off this week as PCS has been banned from postseason play (in football) for failing to play its final three junior high games.

Like two of the most famous dishes in this part of the country – gumbo and jambalaya – Friday’s game included a little bit of everything, especially for a game that saw only 28 combined points on the scoreboard at the end of a very chilly early November evening.

There was, among other things, a two touchdown advantage by the visiting team in the first quarter, with one of those touchdowns coming on a zig-zagging, multi-tackle breaking 18-yard run by MRA quarterback Philip Short – bad wheel and all; a scare from that same quarterback late in the second quarter when he took a shot to the head while sliding into the turf, and had to leave the game momentarily; a nifty fake punt by the home team resulting in a first down in the fourth quarter; a potentially game-altering overthrow of an open receiver by Oak Forest quarterback John Henry White, who was on the wrong end of several of the many hard hits doled out; a lead-preserving goal line stand by the Patriots’ salty defense early in the third quarter; an MRA player, Stone Blanton, departing with a possible broken rib; and more penalty flags than anyone cares to remember, with the majority of those going against the visitors from Mississippi.

MRA finished with 344 yards total offense – 146 rushing, 198 passing. Oak Forest, meanwhile, had 197 total yards, with 134 of those coming in the second half after being limited to only 63 yards in the first half. The ground-and-pound Yellowjackets had zero passing yards as White went 0-for-15 through the air.

The Yellowjackets managed only seven points on this night, however, with those coming courtesy of a 1-yard touchdown run by White late in the third quarter a few minutes after Willie Latham had given MRA a 21-0 lead on a 1-yard scoring run of his own.

Gold-cladded Oak Forest had a few more prime scoring opportunities but was denied each time by Danny White’s defense. 
“It’s always tough to play here,” said MRA receiver Russ Sceroler, who had five catches for 103 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. “We had some calls go against us, but we played hard, and we played physical. We matched their physicality and were able to come out on top.”

MRA did so without leading rusher A.J. Hasley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in last week’s win over PCS. That now leaves Davis without his top four projected running backs entering the season. Josh Tucker, the leading returning rusher from a year ago, opted to transfer to St. Andrew’s. In addition, Starkville Academy transfer Tyler Latham and Rayf Vinson both sustained season-ending knee injuries. Latham was injured early in the fourth game of this season, Vinson the seventh.

Despite their absence, MRA posted its third-highest total on the ground this season. The Patriots rushed for a season-high 193 yards in a win over Hartfield, and 177 in a win over Jackson Academy. MRA utilized seven different backs, including Sam Polles who gained 13 yards on his first carry of the season.

MRA started the season with five straight wins, then dropped back-to-back road games at Philadelphia (ranked No. 1 in Class 2A) and Briarcest Christian (ranked among the top 10 teams in Tennessee) before winning the last five.