In baseball, hitters are “seeing the ball well” when they’re in a groove.
In basketball, shooters are “in the zone” when that feeling comes over them that they can’t miss.
The Heritage Academy offensive linemen showed Friday night that even big boys up front in the trenches can get into a rhythm that makes an entire group feel like it can’t do anything wrong.
Judging by the numbers, the Patriots came pretty close to realizing that goal.
Thanks to a dominating effort by offensive linemen Chase Brooks, Jack Hannon, Dalton Hocutt, William Yingst, and Logan Sneed, Heritage Academy racked up 634 yards in a 56-49 victory against Pisgah on Friday night.
“I said in the spring that we felt our strongest spot was the offensive line,” Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison said. “Coach (Ryan) Deer has worked with them, worked with them, and worked with them and brought them on and brought them on. Playing offensive line and defensive line, they aren’t out there to make friends. They have quit doing that.”
For its efforts, the Heritage Academy offensive line is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
Running back Dontae Gray and quarterback Tyler Anderson were the biggest beneficiaries of the offensive line’s control of the point of attack. Gray had 25 carries for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Anderson added 19 carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson also threw three touchdowns as Heritage Academy matched its highest-scoring game since a 56-28 victory against Magnolia Heights on Sept. 30, 2011.
The victory helped Heritage Academy improve to 4-1 and gave it 202 points, its highest total in five games dating back to at least 1994. The offensive explosion should give Heritage Academy plenty of confidence as it prepares to face Starkville Academy at 7 p.m. Friday in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 opener for both teams.
“I think we just knew through practice what they were going to do and we didn’t see any surprises from their defensive front or their linebackers,” Yingst said. “We just had enough preparation especially because we saw a very similar defense last week. We just had as much preparation as we could ask for coming into it. We knew where our blocks were going to be and we knew we could execute them, so it really wasn’t a big deal.”
All of the Patriots’ offensive linemen are seniors, including Brooks, who filled in for the injured Jones Ray. Heritage Academy was able to maintain its dominance up front even though Sneed played 163 of the 190 snaps in the game. The only time he wasn’t on the field was for kickoffs and extra points.
Yingst said the offensive line’s pass blocking was a little more solid and that Harrison’s play selection was easier for the group to work with because each play had easier blocking space on the play calls. He said a 21-point first quarter set the tone and gave everyone up front the confidence it was going to be a very good night.
“I can’t remember if I have been a part of a game that was that high scoring, but what really stands out to me is we had so many opportunities to put together a 97-yard drive or an 80-yard drive because we could consistently get 5 or 6 yards out of every play and string those together,” Yingst said. “It was just a really great experience.”
Yingst and Sneed said offensive linemen can get a feeling like a hot hitter or shooter in that they know what they’re going to do is going to be successful. He said it is “like money” when you feel a running back go by and know he is going to rip off a big gain.
Said Sneed, “When you’re consistently breaking off 6- to 8-yard plays at the minimum almost every play, that is when you know you’re getting a real good push and they can’t really stop you.”
Brooks, who is 5-foot-11, 240 pounds, Hannon (6-4, 315), and Hocutt (5-10, 260) echoed those thoughts. Brooks said the coaches stressed the importance of competing to the each player on the offensive line. He said the line “cleaned up” the things it hadn’t been doing well in the four previous games. He said getting on blocks and staying on blocks was a point of emphasis.
“We were just focused on scoring,” Brooks said. “We just performed well and worked as a team.”
Yingst said the Patriots didn’t say anything to each other to try to keep the momentum going. All five players said they knew they had to keep going to live up to the encouragement of their coaches to be the most physical group on the field.
“I think we made that happen,” Yingst said.
Harrison credited Deer for getting the offensive linemen to embrace being physical. Even though he didn’t see the play, he said Sneed’s ability to take Pisgah’s 6-7, 360-pound nose guard and make him disappear and bury him shows the offensive linemen have embraced that mind-set. It’s safe to say good things are going to happen when you have an offensive line that is putting defenders to the ground working with a deep set of skill players.
“Coach Deer has done a good job of stressing it is fun to knock people down and to drive them back and all of that,” Harrison said. “They have bought in and executed it.
“We’re really lucky with the skill guys we have. These guys get yelled at when they don’t finish a block and we get a 20-yard gain instead of a touchdown. That is how talented we are. We are really lucky. We are a big-play offense. Any play we run we feel we are going to score on. As long as they keep executing (we will be fine). The difference Friday night was them finishing blocks and putting people on the ground. Having Dontae and Tyler and those receivers and Wilder (Strickland) came in and got some big yards for us and (we have) Lukas Bryant and Toby Young. It starts with those five, but we’re very fortunate to have the skill players that we have.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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