September 13, 2018 10:16:12 AM
The reaction could prove to be more important than the lesson.
After two practices this week, Heritage Academy football coach Sean Harrison has liked what he has seen from his players coming off a 42-41 loss to Lamar School last week in Meridian. The true test for his team will come at 7 p.m. Friday when it returns to the field to play host to Pillow Academy. The game will be the team's second of three-straight matchups against Mississippi Association of Independent School (MAIS) Class AAAA competition.
Harrison is eager to see how Heritage Academy (3-1) responds from a game that it led by two scores with five minutes remaining. The Patriots suffered their share of injuries in the game and had difficulty dealing with the muddy conditions. Still, Harrison said his players have to find a way to put the loss behind them because it won't prevent them from accomplishing their ultimate goal of winning a Class AAA State title.
"I'll give our kids credit. I haven't heard from them any excuses or complaints about the field," Harrison said. "It did affect the game, but on the flip side of that Lamar played on it, too."
Harrison admitted he didn't expect the field to be as bad as it was, but he said it was another lessons for the Patriots to learn that they can control their reaction to the environment and they can't control the environment. He also said the Patriots have to accept they're "going to be a little thin due to injuries" and players are going to have to adjust to new positions and others are going to have to step in to provide assistance. If those things happen, Harrison believes the Patriots will be able to get back on track following an effort in which junior quarterback Carter Putt threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns and running back Kelvin "K.J." Smith nearly rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns. He said the Patriots have to clean up protections by the offensive line and reads by players in situations where plays are there to be made.
Unfortunately, Harrison said injuries early in the game affected his team's defensive game plan and forced Putt, who had never taken a snap at linebacker, to be on the field at linebacker on the final series.
"We did really good things and we did really bad things," Harrison said. "It's a great teaching tape."
Harrison hopes the 2018 Patriots can learn similar lessons to the ones the 2017 and 2016 squads learned following games against Lamar. Last season, Heritage Academy lost to Lamar School 27-3 and then won its next four games. In 2016, a 26-6 loss in week two set the stage for a six-game winning streak.
Harrison isn't sure if his team's overall health will be on par with the health of past teams, but he feels this year's group is mature enough to realize it has the talent and the potential to make all of its dreams come true.
"I think the Lamar game has been good for us as far as a lot of teaching, a lot of learning, getting to play at a high level," Harrison said. "I think it is really good for our kids to go play in that game."
Harrison said the Patriots still aren't executing like they can, even though they scored 41 points. He said the coaches have to do a better job of developing other players and having them ready to play just in case the injuries don't heal as quickly as hoped.
Harrison said there hasn't been any "moaning or groaning" from players moving to new positions in part because the team has solid leadership from senior Moak Griffin and junior Eli Acker. He said he is excited to see how the younger players behind the seniors and juniors respond in their chances to contribute.
"I haven't seen many wide eyes this week. They have just stepped in and done their jobs," Harrison said. "I am excited to see how they do.
"In two weeks, we're going to start getting guys back. ... We're nowhere close to being done this year. The goal always has been let's be at full strength for district, and that is what we're looking for."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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