October 5, 2012 10:44:26 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Barrett Donahoe doesn't want to talk about moral victories or playoff scenarios.
The Heritage Academy football coach wants a victory.
Donahoe knows a victory at 7 tonight against Oak Hill Academy (4-3) in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools non-region matchup will help his team recover from the sting of a 14-13 loss to Magnolia Heights last week in Senatobia.
A victory against the Chiefs would have gone a long way to helping the Patriots (2-5) secure a postseason berth. As it stands tonight, Heritage Academy will have to win its last to Class AAA games against Washington School and Pillow Academy and get help so it moves into a three-way tie with Magnolia Heights and Washington School atop District 2, Division II.
"I get the sense they are still excited about playing football," Donahoe said when asked how his players have responded to last week's loss. They know the door is not shut and that we have a lot of work to do to get there, and that we have four weeks to do it."
Donahoe said the Patriots have responded every time this season when he has asked them to improve their focus. Starting tonight, he hopes the effort will help set the stage for his team to win out in the regular season and get back to .500.
"I want to go out and compete against an Oak Hill team that is so improved," Donahoe said. "Coach (Daniel) Merchant has done a great job. They hustle and play hard, so it is going to be a challenge for us. They are going to be so excited to come here and play us on our Homecoming."
Donahoe also hopes tonight's game gives his players a chance to put themselves in position to take a giant step. He said there have been so many occasions when the Patriots have "gotten a foot in the door" but haven't been able to knock it down. He knows the team will have to take that step if it wants to play in the postseason.
A key to realizing that goal will be getting senior wide receiver Parker Dunaway more involved. Donahoe credited Magnolia Heights for limiting the number of touches Dunaway, who has sprinter's speed, had, whether it was off a pass from quarterback Cade Lott or in the running game.
"When are we going to get out there in a big game and get that big win in a big game capable that we're of," Donahoe said. "Having that success will be vital to us turning the corner."
Immanuel Christian (3-4) at Potts Camp (5-1)
Greg Watkins and the Rams have one more week to build momentum before the all-important three-week stretch to end the season.
Coming off a 22-12 victory against MAIS rival Carroll Academy in Steens, Immanuel Christian will go on the road for what Watkins feels will be one of his team's biggest challenges of the season.
"They have 10 seniors and four start on the offensive line," Watkins said. "They have a quarterback and a tailback (Jordon Harris and Jamarquis Foster) who are really good kids and who are going to be tough to stop out of the backfield.
Watkins hopes the effort and focus his defense showed last week carries over to tonight. Last week, Watkins said players are building confidence and are working harder to keep their assignments.
"We had a lot more people around the ball and finishing tackles (last week)," Watkins said. "When we had opportunities to make hard hits we made hard hits, which we hadn't done in the past. Sometimes it just clicks with kids. Hopefully that game put us over the edge where it clicks with the kids and they play as physically as they did."
Watkins feels his offense already has confidence based on an 82-80 even-overtime victory against New Site and from its ability to move the football against several other teams. He feels quarterback K.C. Cunningham is a lot more comfortable running and throwing and running back Joshua Dantzler has gained valuable experience and now believes he can carry the load. Throw in the breakaway speed of Jutin Tate and the Rams have an array of weapons to challenge defenses. Those weapons will have to click tonight and in the final three games against Manchester Academy, Winston Academy, and Oak Hill Academy if Immanuel Christian wants to advance to the postseason. The top two teams in each of the three districts in Class AA will advance to the playoffs. The two best teams from all three districts also will advance based on a power point formula.
Watkins believes Immanuel Christian can put itself in that mix if it takes care of its business down the stretch.
"We're going to have to continue to get better defensively," Watkins said. "We're improving every week, and those three games are going to be crucial in terms of defensively. I thought we played more physical than we have in the last two years (last week against Carroll Academy)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.