November 3, 2017 9:50:28 AM
The Heritage Academy football team has found ways to keep Sean Harrison loose this season.
Just when Harrison feels his players might not be tuned in to the task at hand, the Patriots have regrouped to deliver an effort that has made their coach proud. One of those performances came last week in a 29-12 victory against Central Private (La.) School in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA playoffs at C.L. Mitchell Field.
Even though the Patriots didn't play their best game on a night that featured periods of wind and rain, they rose up in the second half with a solid defensive effort and a balanced offensive attack to keep their season alive.
After what Harrison said was a great week of practice, he hopes sixth-seeded Heritage Academy can sustain that momentum after a 250-mile bus trip to Natchez to take on third-seeded Adams County Christian Academy in a second-round MAIS playoff game in Natchez.
"We went out in the rain (Wednesday) and fought through a little adversity," Harrison said. "We're just trying to outwork everybody."
Harrison said Heritage Academy was scheduled to leave Columbus at 11:30 a.m. today and travel to Brookhaven in an attempt to get the bulk of the driving out of the way. He said the goal was to keep the routine as "normal" as possible given the extended time everyone will have to stay on the coach bus. Harrison hopes road trips to Greenwood and Senatobia earlier in the season will help the players use the travel time the best way possible.
"Riding that bus can affect you however you want it to affect you," Harrison said. "If you want it to make you tired and sleep walk into the game, it can, but I think this group will be fine."
Harrison said this Patriots have proven they can overcome things like a long bus ride, even though many of the players will play in only their second playoff game. Last week, sophomore quarterback Carter Putt threw three touchdown passes and senior running back Deontae Gray rushed for 158 yards to help Heritage Academy (9-2) outscored Central Private 22-6 in the second half.
ACCS (10-1), the runner-up to Indianola Academy in the 2016 Class AAA State title game, earned its seed by winning District 5. Its only loss was a 38-7 setback to Presbyterian Christian on Sept. 1. Since then, the Rebels have won eight games in a row, all by at least 19 points.
Harrison said it was tough to simulate the Rebels' plan of attack on offense. He said the Rebels will go with a no-huddle attack, but that they won't go extremely fast. He said ACCS will use Kendrick January Jr., Tripp Cotten, Julian Wilson, and Jacob McDaniel at quarterback to keep teams guessing. He said three of the quarterbacks are more likely to run the ball, while McDaniel is the best passer of the bunch, but he can run the football, too. Harrison said the Patriots will have to play assignment football and be disciplined to counter the Rebels' team speed.
"I equate them a lot to Pisgah last year (in terms of team speed)," Harrison said. "This year, I would say they are the fastest offense we have played, but that is OK because I think we are faster as a team."
Harrison said "playing fast" will be a key tonight. To that end, he said the coaches have tried to cut out as much of the thinking the players will have to do to ensure they read and react in an effort to counter the Rebels' speed. If the Patriots can do that and tackle well, Harrison likes his team's chances.
"The first guy who gets there has to wrap up," Harrison said. "We have gotten way some this year with a guy breaks a tackle and we have other guys getting there to clean it up. This game is important because the first guy is going to have to wrap up and at least hold him up for the next guys because they are really good about breaking that first tackle and then turning on the jets."
Offensively, Harrison said the Patriots added a few more wrinkles after they showed a few new looks, especially with junior Moak Griffin. Griffin lined up several times at quarterback and took the direct snap in an effort to get him in space where he could use his speed. Harrison said he has gotten more comfortable with what his players can do and has grown more confident in the Patriots' ability to throw or to run the football at any time. He said the Patriots hope to be able to use that balance to keep the Rebels off balance.
"I didn't want to put new things on people until they could absolutely, 100 percent execute the basics," Harrison said. "We're doing that, and now I have been able to add a lot."
As a result, Harrison is as loose as he has been all season about his team's progression to this point. He also feels the Patriots' confidence matches his.
"I felt like at times, especially early in the year, they didn't feel like they were as good as the team we were playing," Harrison said. "I think it was still a lot of youth and inexperience and they were feeling their way through things. I told them Sunday I wanted them to prepare this week like they were the better team and that was expected to win."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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