December 28, 2012 9:36:11 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
When Heritage Academy first-year football coach Barrett Donahoe coached his first football game with the Patriots, he had some candid observations.
Heritage Academy had just been dominated in the trenches by visiting Lamar Academy. After a quick start by the hosts, Heritage could not keep up instead, losing 36-23.
To the casual observer, one could sense the frustration as a new coach was being asked to provide a spark.
Donahoe knew his squad was talented. He also knew it would take some time to change the culture. The Patriots had been mired in a string of six straight non-winning seasons.
Instead of being discouraged, the coaches worked hard. The players played hard. An olive branch was extended and blind faith in the new coaching staff was given.
A week later, the Patriots knocked off rival Starkville Academy. Two more losses followed, including a long weekend of soul-searching after a one-sided loss to Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
The Patriots decided they had not given their all. This time was going to be different with no regrets.
A victory over Lee Academy followed. A stunning one-touchdown defeat to Jackson Academy also followed.
Even in defeat, the kids were growing up, trust was established and the players believed.
The Patriots would get their revenge on MRA with a 10-3 win in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship game.
For Heritage Academy, it was the school's first football state championship since 1986. Today, the Patriots earn another honor, being named the Dispatch's top prep sports story of 2012.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter