A slow start and five turnovers aren’t essential ingredients to a successful evening.
Despite fighting against both of those things, the Heritage Academy football team still found itself in position to tie and to beat Clarksdale Lee Academy on Friday night.
Unfortunately, the Patriots couldn’t deliver in both instances.
A low snap on an extra point left Heritage Academy trailing by one point late in the fourth quarter. After a defensive stand, Heritage Academy overcame two penalties to put itself in field goal range, only to have Michael Ledbetter’s field goal attempt hit the crossbar and fall away in a 35-34 loss. The defeat left Heritage Academy (2-2) searching for the resolve to find a way to start games quicker and to limit its mistakes.
“You’re always happy to watch your guys be resilient and to see them continue to play,” Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe said, “but it goes back to the same old thing, if you make too many mistakes, you’re going to make enough you’re not going to win.
“We just didn’t do the things we have to do to win. Our guys continuing to battle is a positive, but you have to play good early, and we didn’t play good early.”
Heritage Academy will put its hard work this week in practice to the test at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to play Mississippi High School Activities Association member Pisgah (4-0).
The game will be Heritage Academy’s final warmup before it opens Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 2 play against Starkville Academy. Another game against a MHSAA team, West Lowndes, follows before Heritage Academy takes on Winston Academy on Oct. 9 in another district game.
To get to the postseason, Donahoe knows the Patriots have to do a better job taking care of the football. While sophomore running back Dontae Gray rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns, he also had three fumbles that helped Clarksdale Lee Academy earn what proved to be the winning margin.
“Dontae got in a rhythm,” Donahoe said. “He fumbled early a couple of times and we wanted to continue to give him the ball. He needed to continue to get the ball. Then he got in a rhythm with running and getting positive yards.”
Donahoe also praised the play of senior Dylan Barker, who stepped in for the injured Tyler Anderson at quarterback. Donahoe said Barker, who was 4 of 13 for about 75 yards and one interception, did a good job of controlling the huddle and running the offense. He said Barker was put into tough situations at the end of the first half and at the end of the game, but he did well to put the Patriots in a position to score.
Donahoe said the Patriots talked about coming out of the gate faster. He said he wasn’t sure if the players were tired or in a funk from the long bus ride to the Delta. After the game, he said the coaches talked to the players about not being satisfied for fighting back and coming up short. He said not settling for that result will be a key moving forward if the team is going to have success.
“We are running the football, and you know the ball is going to get on the ground. It’s going to happen, but you have to limit those,” Donahoe said. “The guys have to be prepared as they can to understand how to protect the ball. We went back through that this week in practice.”
Donahoe said the Patriots responded well Monday in practice. He said Tuesday’s practice was OK and that he hopes the Patriots go on the road Friday with the right mind-set to take on the challenge of playing senior running back TJ McGinnis and the Dragons. Pisgah is a Class 2A school that has a roster of 43 players.
McGinnis, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, has 77 carries for 663 yards and eight touchdowns. The Dragons have rushed for 1,472 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“TJ McGinnis is a great player,” Donahoe said. “Physically, he is going to be at a different level than anybody else on the field. There is a reason he is getting Division I offers of Division I looks. … Our guys are looking forward to the challenge. They heard about him back in the preseason. Nobody knew who Pisgah High School was. Me being from Central Mississippi, I knew who Pisgah High School was.
“It will be interesting to see how well we can compete against a top-level athlete. Can we tackle? Can we get red hats around the ball all the time to get them frustrated? … It will be fun. I am looking forward to it. I think it will be good for us to play at that speed as we get ready for our conference play.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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