One game doesn’t make a district season.
That’s why Heritage Academy football coach Sean Harrison allowed his players to enjoy their victory against Starkville Academy last week for a few days before he asked his players to re-focus for their next game.
Playing against another team from Lowndes County should help the Patriots get back to work.
“We told them Sunday,’ You beat Starkville and congratulations and you won the rivalry game,’ ” Harrison said. “But that game means nothing if you don’t continue to get better every day.”
At 7 p.m. Friday, Heritage Academy (5-1) will look to equal its 6-1 start of 2013 at when it plays host to West Lowndes (4-1) in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS)-Mississippi High School Activities Association game at C.L. Mitchell Field. Heritage Academy has won all three meetings in the series, which started in 2013.
Last week, Heritage Academy earned its fourth-straight victory with a 26-17 win against Starkville Academy in the MAIS Class AAA, District 2 opener for both teams at J.E. Logan Field. Senior quarterback Tyler Anderson overcame a pulled hamstring in the first quarter to score three touchdowns and help the Patriots snap the Volunteers’ two-game winning streak in the series.
“Our kids grinded it out and did what they had to do,” Harrison said.
Anderson and Gray (23 carries, 160 yards) helped the Patriots hold the lead by driving a running game that piled up 229 yards.
Anderson had a 13-yard touchdown run, a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown, and an 18-yard fumble recovery for a score.
Anderson’s performance was part of a dominant defensive effort that forced four turnovers.
Harrison praised the game plan of defensive coordinator Russ Whiteside. He said that unit rebounded from two weeks ago when Pisgah’s Don Ragsdale rushed for 378 yards, but Heritage Academy held on for a 56-49 victory.
“Coach Whiteside said it best in the third quarter when Starkville Academy scored to make it 19-17,” Harrison said. “Our kids kind of got uptight about it. Coach Whiteside said, ‘It’s a rivalry game. It’s supposed to happen.’ It was a big game between two good teams. It was supposed to be back and forth with ups and downs. I was pleased to see the maturity of our kids and to see them be able to respond and put the game away.”
Harrison laughed when asked who performed the Mr. Miyagi treatment, or the actions done by the character portrayed by actor Pat Morita in “The Karate Kid,” to heal Anderson’s hamstring. He said Anderson had his hamstring taped at halftime, but he said he still had to tough out the injury and overcome sickness that plagued him in the days leading up to the game against Starkville Academy.
“He is a warrior,” Harrison said. “He is tough. He wanted to win that game and knew he had to be in it for us to win it.
“It was just one of those lead-by-example deals and the kids followed him.”
Harrison said he limited the number of passes and running plays he called for Anderson because he was concerned about his mobility. But he said Anderson came up to him and “begged” him to run him, so he was willing to oblige.
“He wanted that game more than anything,” Harrison said. “It showed.
“Tyler’s career here has been marred by injuries. I think he knows it is his senior year and he wants to make the most of it. We have been lucky he has stayed healthy, so he is not going to take anything for granted.”
The victory puts Heritage Academy in control of its postseason destiny. Following the game against West Lowndes, Heritage Academy will play at Winston Academy and at Indianola Academy before playing host to Leake Academy. The games against Winston Academy and Leake Academy will determine the District 2 champion and which teams gets to contend with the other four district champions for the top seeds in the 16-team Class AAA playoff. The game Indianola (6-0), which is in Class AAA, District 1, also figures to be a big game in terms of playoff points, which will affect seeding.
Harrison doesn’t feel the latest victory, even if it was against one of the school’s biggest rivals, will affect the team’s focus.
“We still have two great district teams to play,” Harrison said. “We could beat Starkville and still finish third in this district. They understand that. Come Sunday, that game was gone it was time to focus on West Lowndes.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.