October 16, 2012 9:46:23 AM
Barrett Donahoe set making the playoffs in his first season as football coach at Heritage Academy as a realistic goal.
The next step the Patriots take this season likely will determine if that dreams stays alive.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Heritage Academy (3-5, 1-3 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 1, Division II) will play host to Washington School (6-2, 2-2). A victory will keep the Patriots' playoff hopes alive with one game remaining (against Pillow Academy) in the regular season.
Heritage Academy is coming off a bye week following a 42-0 victory against Oak Hill Academy. Donahoe said the Patriots used the week to relax and "to get their legs back underneath them." Like in the week prior to a matchup against Jackson Academy, Donahoe feels his team matches up well against Washington School. While he said each team has its advantages, he is eager to work this week to prepare the program for one of its biggest games in recent memory.
"I kind of want them to be in the moment," Donahoe said. "I hope they come out and understand their situation, understand what they're playing for and not take it for granted, and don't let it slip by them too fast. I hope they enjoy the excitement this game brings and the preparation and the challenge it brings."
With losses to Division I Madison-Ridgeland and Jackson Academy and Division II Magnolia Heights and a victory against Clarksdale Lee, Heritage Academy would need to win its final two games to secure a tiebreaker against Washington School. Donahoe feels his team is up for the challenge, even if it is gearing up to face what he said is the "best defensive team we have played this year." Last week, Washington School stayed with Jackson Academy for one half before losing 24-7. Donahoe feels the Patriots can draw strength from that game and their 41-35 loss to Jackson Academy on Sept. 21.
"I feel it is going to be a defensive struggle," Donahoe said. "Both teams present the other team problems, so we're going to have to do a good job of getting first drives and maintaining drives and, at some point, making big plays with our speed guys."
Donahoe feels field position also will be a key to the game. He said his front will have to do a good job against Washington School's linebacker to limit the number of plays they make. If they can do that, Donahoe feels the Patriots can get the ball to playmakers like Parker Dunaway, Miller Puckett, Cade Lott, Hudson Bean, and others.
"If you look at the way we moved the ball against Jackson Academy, it has got to make you feel good," Donahoe said. "If we get 4 or 5 yards a play, that is a great job against this group. We have to be patient enough to get 4 or 5 yards a play and whenever the opportunity comes to make a play let's execute and make that a home run play."
While Heritage Academy is fighting for a playoff spot, Victory Christian already knows it will compete in the Christian Football Association playoffs.
The Eagles just don't know where they will be for their first game. They will determine their fate at 7 p.m. Friday when they play at Tuscaloosa Christian. At 3-4 and 3-1 in the CFA, Victory Christian is tied with Tuscaloosa Christian (4-3) in the league standings. The winner Friday night will get to play host to a first-round playoff game the following week.
Victory Christian coach Chris Hamm would love to get a chance to play at home next week, especially against one of his program's biggest rivals. But he also knows everything won't be lost if his team can't win Friday night.
"We're definitely going into the game trying to win it and not holding back anything that we think will aid us in winning the game," Hamm said. "We do have to have some things ready and we have to be smart enough not to rely on what happens this week to take care of next week. They're going to make some adjustments, just like if they beat us we're going to come back and make adjustments."
Victory Christian is coming off a 49-6 victory against North River Christian that clinched a spot in the postseason. Anthony Sharp rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns to lead the offense, while Hunter Austin had six catches for 93 yards.
Hamm said Victory Christian and Tuscaloosa Christian are evenly matched, which means players like Sharp will have to deliver. He said the Eagles have tried to get the ball to Sharp more as the season has progressed. He said the team tried to use him as a decoy earlier in the season but found that it was better to get him established and work off of what he does.
"If we're going to win he is going to be the one who is going to carry the load for us. That is no secret," Hamm said. "I think going all the way back to the Tabernacle game, I think we outcoached ourselves and tried to use him as a decoy and to depend on others. The way the game went with turnovers and onside kicks we were so limited and it never worked out like we had hoped."
Hamm said Sharp and all of the Eagles have learned to run with more toughness in congested areas and to try to get into space to make scoring moves. He likes the mix of power and speed Sharp and other players possess. Now it is just a matter of putting all of that together to get an opportunity to play another game at home.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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