Sometimes teams just have to do it the hard way.
Heritage Academy football coach Barrett Donahoe wishes he would have been able to bottle the emotion and energy his team generated from its victory against Washington School two weeks ago. That victory put the Patriots firmly in control of their destiny and gave them some breathing room as they entered the final five regular-season games.
That wiggle room has vanished.
A 32-22 loss Friday at Pillow Academy dropped Heritage Academy to 6-2 and 2-2 in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 1, Division II. It now is tied in the loss column with Magnolia Heights. Pillow Academy and Starkville Academy, which Heritage Academy plays on Oct. , have three losses in the conference, while Hillcrest Academy has four.
“I would hope they understand it,” Donahoe said when asked if he thought the players knew how difficult the loss made things for the team. “I don’t know if they understand it. If they understood it, I think we would have played better that what we played Friday night. We didn’t play well. We can talk about Pillow Academy having a great game plan, we can talk about Pillow being more intense than they were, but that is part of playing well. I thought overall Pillow played with a lot more emotion and they played with a lot more determination. Did we show signs of that? Yes, but we weren’t consistent with it.”
Donahoe said he and his coaches saw those instances Monday morning when they watched the film of the game again. He said he planned to show the players the same film later in the day. His hope was to impress upon them that Heritage Academy is going to face tougher opponents than Pillow Academy the last four weeks of the regular season, so performances like that one aren’t going to cut it.
A victory against Pillow Academy would have given Heritage Academy more margin for error entering its final stretch against Starkville Academy, Magnolia Heights, and Madison-Ridgeland Academy. A game at 7 p.m. Friday against Class AA Leake Academy won’t figure in the Class AAA playoff chase, but it will give Heritage Academy a chance to change its trajectory.
“Offense, defense, special teams, we just played unemotional,” Donahoe said. “When the urgency was needed, we didn’t have it at all 11 positions. We had it in spots but not at all 11 positions.”
Donahoe didn’t feel his team was flat on the bus ride to Greenwood. In fact, he said the team was confident and ready to play, only to see the players not respond to adversity of getting “hit in the mouth.” He said it was frustrating to see the Patriots not answer challenges or do things that would have helped them put the game away.
In one instance, he said Heritage Academy had an opportunity to build a two-score lead with a second-and 6 from the Pillow Academy 8-yard line late in the third quarter. He said consecutive losses led to a Pillow Academy scoring drive that propelled them to victory.
Earlier in the season, Donahoe said he was curious to see how his team responded after not being tested in its first three games. He was pleased how Heritage Academy answered the call in a home victory against Oak Hill Academy and how the team rallied from a 7-0 deficit two weeks ago to earn a 14-7 victory against Division I Washington School. Instead of using that victory to build momentum, though, the Patriots squandered an opportunity and will have to work doubly hard to make sure they have a chance to defend their Division II state title.
“You can talk about it all you want. We just have to do a better job week to week,” Donahoe said. “We need to get better. We have four games coming up all of which are going to be tremendously tough football games. It is on our guys to do it, get better, or in four weeks we won’t be playing anymore.”
Donahoe said he was going to lay out the end of the regular season just like that to his players. He said he had planned on giving the team a day off since school wasn’t in session, but he scrapped that idea after Friday’s game. While he understands the players are tired and that the team has had injuries, he didn’t make excuses for the latest performance and emphasized the need for all of the Patriots to be focused and ready to perform at the highest level.
If they don’t, the season will come to an end sooner than expected.
“When you face a team that is extremely hungry to win and that decides is never going to give up and is going to play every single play, you better execute at all 11 positions on every play or the results won’t be desirable,” Donahoe said. “That is what happened to us on Friday night. It was very disappointing. As a coach, it is up there (with the most disappointing loss in his coaching career). As a coach at Heritage Academy, I consider it to be the most disappointing loss we have had. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and ask if you are doing the right things when that happens. Believe me we have.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.