Faced with a must-win situation, it was fitting the last line of defense turned in a game-changing performance.
With more than 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, the Heritage Academy defensive backfield led the Patriots to a 28-12 victory against Washington School on Friday. Once a longshot to make the playoffs, the turnaround victory moved the Patriots (4-5, 2-2 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA Division 2, District 1) into second place in the district. A victory next week at Pillow Academy and a Washington School victory against Magnolia Heights would clinch a No. 1 seed for the Patriots. A victory by Magnolia Heights and a victory by Heritage Academy would give the Patriots the No. 2 seed.
Mark Thatcher and Parker Dunaway each had an interception. Thatcher added a pair of pass breakups, while Dunaway added four. Collectively, the defense forced two turnovers on Washington School’s first two drives, and four in the game. The Patriots capitalized on the first, a fumble on the Generals’ first play, when Miller Puckett scored on a 23-yard run to go up 7-0.
The first-half interceptions by quarterback Blake Rounsavall were a sign of things to come in the second half, as Heritage turned a 14-0 lead into 21-0 advantage after Puckett scored on a 3-yard run. Rounsavall was forced to go to the air and finished 10 of 28 for 117 yards. He was harassed in the pocket and was fortunate to see a slew of passes swatted away instead of intercepted.
The most impressive part of Heritage Academy defensive backfield’s performance? The Patriots played man coverage all night.
“It’s always a good feeling knowing you beat someone individually,” Dunaway said. “I know the linemen have the same feeling. (It’s the) same thing with the running backs in space when they make someone miss. It’s a good feeling.”
Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe said the coverage allowed the Patriots to put seven men in the box to slow down the Generals’ rushing attack, which featured five rushers.
“It’s very nice to know you’ve got that flexibility,” he said. “We were able to send a lot of our front seven at them.”
After taking a 21-0 lead two minutes into the third quarter, Heritage Academy looked ready to concede its first score. Washington School marched 11 plays to the Heritage Academy 18, but Hudson Bean and Dunaway recorded a breakup and two breakups, respectively, to regain possession.
“I just see it as our defense collectively doing its job,” Dunaway said. “Our defensive line did a great job getting a rush, and that helped us take advantage of some bad throws. We didn’t see them throw much on film. We just came out prepared, knowing that when we got ahead, they’d try to throw. We trusted our preparation to get through it.”
Lott led Heritage with 72 yards on seven carries and added 54 passing yards. He had a 50-yard rushing score and an 18-yard touchdown catch. Puckett had 68 rushing yards on 18 carries and had two scores.
Heritage Academy will play next week at Pillow Academy.
Washington School was hampered by a slew of injuries. Senior linebacker Chad Zepponi played sparingly with a shoulder injury, senior running back Adam Gober played sparingly with shoulder injury, senior defensive lineman Nelson Corban, also the backup kicker, had a stomach bug, and was taken out of the game at halftime, and senior wide receiver/defensive back J.C. Clements also had a stomach bug.
The Generals also had to overcome an injury to senior Andrew Steinle, the team leader in rushing, who was hurt on fourth offensive play of game.
Entering the game, Washington School had only two turnovers all season (interceptions against Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Academy).
Chris Whitaker contributed to this report.