Minus one busted play early on, Raleigh's defense kept things manageable in the first half Friday night. Forcing two interceptions and two fumbles on the ground in the first 24 minutes of game clock, Raleigh rushed to the locker room at halftime down one score, 14-6, to Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
But MRA scored at will in the second half to hand Raleigh its first on-field loss of the season, 34-12.
“In the first half, we came out on fire,” said Raleigh head coach Ryan Higdon. “We busted a coverage because our defensive back had his eyes in the backfield, so they got a cheap one on us, but we fought back. We answered with a score and made it a one-point game.
"Our defense played their tails off. Offensively, we kept them off the field as much as we could. That kept MRA from getting any kind of rhythm in the first half, and that helped our defense out."
The majority of Raleigh's first-half takeaways came deep in their territory.
Answering MRA busted coverage play on the game’s opening drive, Raleigh wasted seven minutes off the clock and scored on a 49-yard pass to Suntarine Perkins. A missed extra point kept MRA in the lead 7-6.
After Raleigh intercepted an MRA pass, then turned the ball back over to the Patriots on a near scoop and score, MRA extended its lead 14-6.
Raleigh's defense stopped every other MRA first-half drives by forcing yet another Patriot interception and creating two fumbles. The offense, however, was unable to capitalize.
"MRA is a really good football team," said Higdon. "They have a good defense too. They have one of the best linebackers in the state, so we knew it would be difficult. We knew we'd have to come off the ball and give a good push up front, and we did at times. But we made too many mistakes upfront blocking, and that keeps us from getting some rhythm ourselves."
The second half wrote a different story. MRA scored on three of its four possessions.
“We just didn’t come out of the half with our hair on fire like we did in the first,” said Higdon.
Raleigh added one other score with 12 seconds remaining in the ball game on another pass to Perkins — this one from 27 yards out.
"I do not doubt that we're going to get better," said Higdon. "It's tough taking a loss, but we're going to get better. When I scheduled [MRA], win, lose, or draw, I knew we would get better because of it. They are a well-coached and well-disciplined football team. I knew once again that this game would benefit us one way or the other.
"Yeah, there are some negatives, but they're some positives to take away as well."
MRA out-gained Raleigh 405-224 in total offense.
Raleigh finished with 27 first downs to MRA's 12 and outrushed the Patriots in yards gained, 148 to 83.
Fullback Javarious Walker led Raleigh with 92 yards on 12 carries.
Raleigh opens up Region 6-3A on the road next week at Crystal Springs. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.