The time is now for the Heritage Academy football team.
Coming off a loss to Madison-Ridgeland Academy last week, Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe hasn’t minced words with his seniors and the rest of his players as preparations continue for their game at 7 Friday against Clarksdale Lee Academy.
At 1-3 and 0-1 in Class AAA, District 1, Division II, Donahoe knows his team doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to realize a goal and advance to the postseason.
“We talked about it after the Lamar loss, about which group would finally lead it and make it better,” Donahoe said. “This group (of seniors) has a decision to make it if it going to be the group to do it or if they are going to wait for the next group to do it.
“This is the week. This is it. If we’re going to get this thing back on track this is the biggest week of the year. As each week goes by, the next one will become so much more important, but this Division II conference game might be the most important game for these high school seniors have ever played. I don’t know if they understand it now. We’re trying to drive it home. I hope they understand the urgency of how important it is for them.”
Leading 10-6, Heritage Academy allowed MRA to score 17 unanswered points in the third quarter Friday and couldn’t rally in a 33-10 loss. Heritage Academy committed four turnovers that helped MRA turn the tide. The Patriots have committed 13 turnovers in their three losses.
Donahoe said he and the coaches examined the offense and have tweaked things in an attempt to give all 11 players better opportunities to be successful. He hopes the changes will help players hold on to the football, to block better up front, and to make better decisions with the ball.
“Until we begin to take care of the first-level blocks we’re not going to have success,” Donahoe said.
Donahoe said Heritage Academy running backs will have to be grittier in getting tough yards. If they can do that, he feels the team will be able to control the clock and be able to create chances in the passing game from the running game.
“They have responded good to us,” Donahoe said. “The biggest fear as a first-year coach is a ‘Here we go again mentality, and well, it is not getting any better, why do we have to give more effort?’ That s something we have to push through all of the time.”
Donahoe admitted there was a sense after a 19-6 victory against Starkville Academy in week two that fortunes were going to change. Heritage Academy lost that momentum the following week in a 20-7 loss at Caledonia. Now, Donahoe said, the Patriots will have to execute the changes and realize they are close to making things happen. He said the Patriots also have to realize they can’t lose focus for a second the rest of the way because things can unravel just as quickly.
“We have to continue to work on our mentality and effort and get that thing turned around for us,” Donahoe said.
Victory Christian 1-2, 1-0 Christian Football Association) at Tabernacle (3-0, 2-0)
Chris Hamm has had plenty of experience with bye weeks the past few years. For the most part, the longtime Victory Christian coach would rather do without the breaks.
This year is a little different. Coming off a 43-32 victory against New Life, Hamm didn’t mind that his team had a week to rest, to regroup, and to plan to face the Torches, the defending CFA champions.
“We are coming off a win we needed in a big way,” Hamm said. “I think the bye week did the guys good and energized them and helped them get ready to play.”
The return of running back/safety Anthony Sharp also made things easier in the victory against New Life. Hamm felt Sharp, who missed a loss against Hebron Christian, would be able to break big plays and to create opportunities for teammates. He did just that, scoring on a long run on his first touch and helping open things up for wide receiver Austin Richardson, who scored on a long touchdown pass, and for quarterback Bryer Bolton, who had a key run late in the game to seal the deal.
Hamm said Sharp’s presence on defense also solidified the Eagles’ zone scheme. As a result, Cody Bolton made an interception Hamm felt “turned the game” and middle linebacker Brandon Shaw made 17 tackles.
Hamm said the defense will have to be focused Friday to sort out all of the motion and formations Tabernacle will use. Many times, Hamm said, that movement disguises a sound running play.
“The defense is coming on,” Hamm said. “I think they are getting comfortable with what they are seeing and what the offenses are doing and what their responsibilities are. … In the second half (against New Life), I thought our defense seemed to hit its stride and play like we hope it is going to play like down the stretch.”
Immanuel Christian (1-3, 0-0) at Canton Academy (3-1, 1-0)
Greg Watkins hopes the Rams can build on the momentum they earned last week in an 82-80, seven-overtime home victory against New Site in a matchup against the Panthers, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA, Division 2 front-runner.
Watkins felt his team did a good job of fighting through fatigue and making big plays when it needed to, especially in the sixth overtime when it trailed by eight points and had a third-and-goal from the 20. Quarterback K.C. Cunningham hit wide receiver Dee Young on a wheel route for a touchdown and the Rams added the two-point conversion to extend the game.
That energy carried over the seventh quarter, when Cunningham, who had fumbled on a conversion run earlier in overtime, lowered his shoulder to punch the ball home for the conversion that proved to be the winning points.
“Guys stepped up when they had to,” Watkins said. “I think they were determined not to lose. That shows a lot of character.”
Watkins hopes losses to Winona Christian, Leake Academy, and Manchester Academy to start the season will serve as lessons Immanuel Christian can learn from all season. He said the team will need to play at the level of those teams if it wants to have a chance to advance to the postseason in a competitive division. He also hopes a first victory will raise spirits and confidence to help the Rams believe they can make the plays when needed.
“They know they’re never too far out of a game,” Watkins said. “We went down two scores early and we battled back from that. In overtime, we would go down six or eight and they never quit and they kept battling. I could see how weary they were in between each overtime period, but when they got out there you could see them start to pick up their energy.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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