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As much as any team in the state, Jackson Prep is used to playing important football games.
As the tradition-rich Patriots get ready to host Starkville Academy in a 7 p.m. division showdown on Friday, head coach Ricky Black and company hopes to add another feather to their caps and once again reassert themselves as one of Mississippi's premier programs in a big-game atmosphere.
Yet Black knows his Patriots have quite the challenge ahead of them in the undefeated Volunteers, a group that Black predicted had a good chance to be successful before the regular season even began.
"When we saw Starkville Academy earlier in the year at the Jackson Academy jamboree, we thought they were a good football team then," said Black. "They played very good defense and really had a very consistent and efficient offense. At that time, I think we knew they were going to be a very good team."
The Volunteers have since proven Black right, marching through the first half of their schedule to enter Friday's contest unbeaten.
As Starkville Academy (5-0) was busy piling up its wins to get to this point, Jackson Prep was also hard at work improving itself.
From the time the 2011 campaign kicked off, the Patriots (4-1) have been notching wins over strong programs.
To start the year, Jackson Prep knocked off Madison-Ridgeland Academy 35-13, as the Patriots gained a measure of revenge against the team that booted them from the postseason in 2010.
After a 28-7 win over Pillow Academy in the season's second week, Jackson Prep knocked off defending MHSAA Class 3A champion Forest 24-14.
The Patriots followed the win over Forest with a dominating 38-0 division win over Copiah Academy.
Jackson Prep's only speed bump so far this season came last week in a 34-9 loss to MHSAA Class 5A's Pearl.
Despite last week's hiccup, Black says his team has played well all season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our defense has really carried us, especially early in the season," said Black. "That side has really played well. We did have a breakdown in the third quarter last week, but of course, Pearl is a good football team."
Though it has taken five games, Black says his offense is finally catching up to his defense.
While the Patriots rely heavily on junior tailback Hamel McGraw, Black says junior quarterback Ryan Buchanan is starting to make his presence felt each week as well.
"(Buchanan's) passing has been picking up some so it's making our offense a little more balanced," said Black. "That's where we want to be. We want to be able to throw as much as we run the ball."
Being effective on the ground and through the air will be key for Jackson Prep if it's to become the first team to knock off Starkville Academy this season.
However, Black knows that is all easier said than done as the Volunteers come to Jackson with loads of momentum.
"Coming in right now undefeated, (Starkville Academy) has just gotten better and better each week," said Black. "It's definitely a big game."