September 4, 2009 9:01:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Rivalry games always are intense.
But as much as Heritage Academy football coach Brad Butler is looking forward to tonight''s matchup (7) against Starkville Academy, he is more excited that the game will be the Class AAA, District 1 opener for both teams.
To Butler, that fact is crucial for the Patriots (2-0), who will try to build on the momentum they earned last week in a come-from-behind 13-12 victory at Winston County.
"I don''t think about it as much as a rivalry game as a conference game that we need to get," Butler said.
Butler played at Starkville Academy and coached the offensive and defensive lines at his alma mater from 1998-2004. He moved to Heritage Academy, where he was a member of the 2005 coaching staff that guided the team to the Class AAA Division II state title game. He also served as offensive line coach last season before being promoted in January to replace Lee Davis.
Butler and Starkville Academy coach Brian Sims hope to raise both their programs to the championship level again.
Butler remembers Central Academy in Macon being a big rival for Heritage Academy. He said the players and the fans probably talk more than anybody when it comes to discussing the Heritage Academy-Starkville Academy rivalry.
But he said that talk won''t disrupt his team''s focus for tonight.
Heritage Academy beat Oak Hill Academy 47-14 in its opener. Butler said the Patriots played much better in week one than they did last week, when he said they almost waited too late to make things happen.
Butler doesn''t want his players to think they can get away with that type of effort again this week.
"I felt like we didn''t play very good last week," Butler said. "We just didn''t execute last week. We had too many penalties, too many turnovers, too many missed blocks, too many missed assignments. Everything we did good the first week we did bad the second week. It is important for us to get back on the right track."
Starkville Academy (0-2) lost to the Lamar School 43-6 last week and to Ackerman, a Class 2A power in the Mississippi High School Activities Association, in its opener.
Sims doesn''t believe the Rivalry with Heritage Academy is on par with the intensity of an Ole Miss-Mississippi State pairing.
Still, he knows the players will be up to play friends or opponents that know, if only because the schools are about a half hour apart.
Sims said the game is just as important for the Volunteers because no team wants to lose its conference opener, especially when you''re in an eight-team league that features four other teams (Jackson Academy, Lee, Magnolia Heights, and Pillow) that are 2-0.
"Our week of practice has been pretty good," said Sims, who coached at Newton Academy, Pillow Academy, and Winston Academy before coming to Starkville Academy. "We are trying to challenge our guys to eliminate the mistakes we have been making."
Sims said the Volunteers have had 10 turnovers in their first two games. He said his goal is to continue to help the players build mental and physical toughness so they can compete in one of the toughest divisions in MAIS.
"We have got to get to the point where we are confident we can compete with anybody in our league," Sims said. "If we want the program where it needs to be, we have to get to a point perennially that we can go toe to toe with those guys and be able to compete."
Sims said he has seen the players work hard in the offseason to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and that he has seen them play hard. He believes the Volunteers will continue to make progress to becoming the team that is the most physical and the one that is making the fewest mistakes every week.
While he sees his team taking steps toward that goal, Sims also sees Butler''s team doing the same.
"I know coach Butler well and know what kind of person he is," Sims said. "I know how he is going to coach his kids, and he is going to have them ready to play and motivated. I see Heritage playing a lot better football. They are playing harder and faster and being more physical."
Butler hopes the Patriots can deliver an effort that matches Sims'' assessment. He knows the Patriots can''t assume they will have as magical a night as last week, when Stance Henderson''s 54-yard touchdown on his only touch of the evening helped the team rally for the victory.
"It''s a big game for us," Butler said. "It''s the biggest game we have played so far because it is a division game. I feel we have to get started out on the right foot.
"We have to get back to being us. The first three and a half quarters last week weren''t us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.