September 30, 2012 1:52:16 AM
SENATOBIA -- Close.
Barrett Donahoe has used that word several times this season to highlight how far he feels the Heritage Academy football program is from competing for championships.
The first-year coach has used that word with members of the media and with his players in attempt to get them to play with the intensity and speed he feels they need to realize title dreams
Those goals were tantalizingly within reach Friday night.
Unfortunately, an assortment of missed opportunities, including a missed two point conversion in the final three minutes, proved to be too much for Heritage Academy to overcome in a 14-13 loss to Magnolia Heights in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II, District 1 game.
"I told them that one point is on me," Donahoe said. "I will take it. We fought and fought and fought. We tried to do something right there and didn't get it done. We had the wrong personnel in, and it is my fault for not realizing we had the wrong personnel. It is my fault. I looked up and you call it and they say, 'What?' and it is too late to change it."
Donahoe was referring to the outcome of a whirlwind of unexpected happenings with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left in the game. Eight seconds earlier, Heritage Academy (2-4, 1-2 Division II) stopped Magnolia Heights (6-1, 3-0) on downs and had a chance to get the ball back following a punt. Unfortunately, the Patriots had to use their final timeout because senior defensive back Taylor Fields was down after suffering a blow to the shoulder.
Not having a timeout came back to haunt Heritage Academy because the snap on the ensuing punt attempt went over the head of Magnolia Heights' Travis Beam. The sophomore tried to kick the ball out of bounds with his back to the action, but was unsuccessful. Instead, the ball bounded into the end zone, where Hudson Bean recovered it for a touchdown to cut the Chiefs' lead to 14-13.
Following a celebration, Heritage Academy scrambled to get the right personnel on the field in an apparent attempt to win the game. Despite someone calling from the Heritage Academy sideline to kicker Graham McCain to kick the football, the Patriots snapped it and then watched Parker Dunaway take off for the left corner of the end zone. The senior sprinter came up at least 1 yard shy of the end zone for what could have been a clinching conversion.
"I tried to do something to go ahead and win it and not have to get into overtime with them," Donahoe said. "I didn't have any timeouts to change it, so it is what it is."
Donahoe said he didn't consider risk taking a 5-yard delay of game penalty to get organized and to check the personnel on the field.
Magnolia Heights coach Cliff Young said his team works on punt blocks Wednesdays and Thursday. This time, he said the Chiefs didn't have a block on and David Herrington slipped through a missed block, along with two teammates, to take advantage of the low snap.
"I don't know if they were just trying to get down field and cover. I don't know what their assignments are, but we didn't have a block on," Young said.
The missed conversion was one of many missed chances for the Patriots. Magnolia Heights scored its first touchdown, a pass from quarterback Luke Young to Kevin Barber, on a 79-yard run following a missed tackle.
On its first possession, Heritage Academy missed connecting on two pass plays that could have helped it establish momentum.
A 14-yard pass from Cade Lott to Hunter Anderson and McCain's kick helped the Patriots tie the game at 7 with 1:58 to go in the second quarter.
Heritage Academy had a chance to take the lead at halftime, thanks to a pass interference call on Magnolia Heights with 1.1 seconds left, but McCain was well short on a 39-yard field goal attempt.
Still, the Patriots appeared to have the momentum in the third quarter. Mark Thatcher had an 18-yard kick return to get the Patriots started. a 12-yard gain by Anderson on second down pushed the ball into Magnolia Heights territory. Miller Puckett then ripped off 10 more yards before he fumbled and the Chiefs recovered.
The teams then traded two more fumbles before Magnolia heights caught a break on special teams. Faced with fourth-and-5 from its 25, Heritage Academy had to punt, but the snap from center to Bean was low, which allowed Magnolia Heights to break through. David Herrington blocked the kick, which rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Tee Dandridge to give the Chiefs the lead.
That play and a pass breakup by Barber on a halfback option pass by Barber intended for Lott on fourth-and-9 from the Chiefs' 18 with 4:57 to go in the game were the plays coach Young pointed to as game-savers.
"It came down to special teams tonight," Young said. "Our outside linebacker (Kevin Barber) made a heck of a play down here on the quarterback throwback. He recovered well and knocked the ball down. That was huge. We got a couple of key first downs in the third quarter to keep the chains moving."
Memphis University School transfer Fernando Van Hook paced Magnolia Heights with 31 carries for 164 yards. His ability to cut and to spin out of trouble helped key at least one drive alive.
"That was some tough tinning in there tonight," Young said. "They have a fine defense. Their front is as good as any front we have faced. I have seen them play against JA (Jackson Academy), and they're just tough in there on defense. My hat is off to them. They're a really good football team. We were fortunate to come off the field with a win. This had a playoff atmosphere."
Donahoe agreed and hopes his team will have a chance to play in a similar setting later in the season. With Class AAA games remaining against Washington School and Pillow Academy, Donahoe knows his team has little margin for error. The fact that his team is so close makes it even more agonizing.
"I am mad at myself for about 50 different things tonight. That is just one of them that everybody is going to talk about," Donahoe said. "The players will focus on it. The fans will on it. I am mad at myself for a lot of things we did out here tonight, for not being more prepared offensively against this split-4 defense they have been running.
Next week, Heritage Academy will play host to Class AA Oak Hill Academy.
"Washington School is the only chance we have (in division)," Donahoe said. "We have to win our last two to be in and our last three to even our record up. I don't think that is out of the realm of possibility, but, at the same time, we're going to find out what our kids are made of, as far as their mentality and how hard they're going to fight for us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.