Ryan Buchanan burst into laughter as I put into perspective for him just how long it had been since a school not named Jackson Prep or Jackson Academy had won the state title in the MAIS' large-school classification.
Me: Gas was $1.22 per gallon. "Oh my gosh, that's like a different world," said Prep's senior Dandy Dozen quarterback. Me: The No. 1 TV show in America was "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Buchanan: Man, I used to sit and watch that with my grandmother. Me: One of the top movies that year was "The Sixth Sense." Buchanan: Never heard of it. Yes, it's been that long since the championship trophy in the MAIS' large-school classification didn't end up on either Ridgewood Road (JA) or Lakeland Drive (Prep). The last time it happened, in 1999, Pillow Academy won the Academy AAAA crown. Friday night at 7, Prep and JA will play once again for the AAA, Division I title at Mississippi College's Robinson-Hale Stadium. It'll be the 13th straight time one of the schools has won the title. But as Prep coach Ricky Black and JA coach David Sykes were quick to point out, the rivalry never gets old. "Never does," said Black. "Especially in a game like this when a championship is on the line. I think that just makes it really special." This is the ninth time since 2001 (and 12th overall) the schools have played each other for the title. Going for 4 This one could be extra special for JA, which is chasing its fourth consecutive title. Only three Mississippi teams (Starkville Academy from 1974-77; Winston Academy from 1997-2000; and South Panola's five in a row from 2003-07) have accomplished that feat. "I don't think you ever think about doing something like that," said Sykes. "Of course, you have high expectations, but you have to have so many things for a state championship. You've got to play well, you have to stay away from injuries and then you have to have a little bit of luck. For the last four years, we've had those things. Those are the ingredients." Sykes, in his fourth season, says he didn't talk about the possible four-peat when the season began. "Not until this week," said Sykes, who is 37-3 at JA. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be playing at Mississippi College in November. Once we got there, we have talked about it. Very few teams have ever done it. We have the opportunity and that's all we can ask for." 2-team race Since 2001, it's been pretty much a two-team affair. Other than MRA reaching the title games in 2006, 2008 and 2010, JA and Prep have played for the title every year. Second-year MRA coach Forrest Williams has a good idea of just why the two rivals have been so dominant. "They've been beating up on me since I got in the league," said Williams with a laugh. "I think it's twofold. First, they have great coaching staffs at both places. And two, they have numbers to work with. Those are the two biggest schools. It's not just the first 22 on the field, but it's just the depth. It's the quality of practice they can have because of the depth. That's been the biggest challenge for us. I feel like we are comparable talent-wise, but it's just when you get down into the depth." Friday's game will be the second in five weeks between Prep and JA. Prep won 27-24 on Oct. 5. Black, going for his seventh title, expects this one to be close too. "I think both teams came out of the overtime game thinking it was even and somebody just had to win," said Black. "When you play one like that, everybody understands that it's going to be a close and tight game the next time. I don't think this will be any different. Both teams will play very hard. It will be intense. And it will be pleasing to the fans." They usually are. Who can forget Michael Mordecai's 44-yard field goal with 24.7 seconds left last year that gave JA its third straight? Or Kaleb Barlow's miracle catch in the final seconds (OK, maybe there shouldn't have been any seconds left) that forced OT in 2007 in a game Prep won 17-10? "The intensity level just rises a little bit more when we play them," said Sykes. "Both teams will play at a higher level. That's just the JA-Prep rivalry." The players say they wouldn't have it any other way. "I like it this way," said Buchanan. "We live in the same area and see each other all the time. The fact we get to play them for the championship, it doesn't get any better."