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STATE CHAMPIONS: Patriots cap memorable year as No. 1


Adam Minichino



CLINTON -- Hudson Bean smiled. 


The Heritage Academy football team had worked all week to get the senior running back prepared to play the role of Tim Tebow. Bean, who has grown to love his role out of the Wildcat formation, was eager to make something happen. 


An 11-yard run on a reverse by Parker Dunaway set the Patriots up in perfect position, fourth-and-goal from the Magnolia Heights 3-yard line. 


All Bean had to do was execute. 


Two quarters later -- with a five-game winning streak and a state championship trophy in hand -- Bean didn't mind reflecting on what could have been. 


"It was wide open," Bean said. "We ended up pulling it out, so you can't really complain. Cade (Lott) ran a great route, and the safety bit real hard, so it was wide open. I should have hit him, but a win was a win." 


Missed scoring chances are easier to reflect on after a victory, which is why Bean was able to smile Friday afternoon following Heritage Academy's 10-3 victory against Magnolia Heights in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division 2 state championship game at Mississippi College's Robinson-Hale Stadium. 


Leading 10-3, an interception by Miller Puckett gave Heritage Academy a chance to add a crucial score before halftime and take command. Puckett's 41-yard return gave Heritage Academy a first-and-goal at the Magnolia Heights 9. A procedure penalty and two incompletions pushed the Patriots to third down with a little more than one minute to play in the half. A reverse by Dunaway moved the football 3 yards from paydirt and a momentum-gathering score. With a player in motion, Bean took the direct snap out of the Wildcat and approached the line of scrimmage. He pulled up and spotted Lott alone in the middle of the end zone, but the pass never made it and fell incomplete. 


Fortunately, Heritage Academy's defense was there to pick up the slack each time in the second half. The Patriots hurt themselves on each of their first four drives of the second half. An incompletion would have extended a promising nine-play march to open the half. A holding call on the second drive and a fumble contributed to a missed field goal on the second drive. Holding penalties on the third and fourth drives stalled those advances and left Heritage Academy players and fans knowing they should have been up by much more than seven points. 


"We had the ball a lot, and it seemed like we should have scored," Bean said. "We would get down to the 15- or the 10-yard line. You would think after a while finally we might bang it in, but the defense held strong, and that is what won us the game." 


Like many of his teammates, Bean admitted he didn't think the final score would be 10-3. In a game dominated by defense and missed opportunities, Bean's performance on offense gave Heritage Academy (7-5) one more wrinkle it used to capture its first state championship since 1986. 


In Magnolia Heights' 14-13 victory against Heritage Academy in Senatobia in the regular season, Bean didn't run out of the Wildcat formation. Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe added that dimension to give the Patriots another playmaker who could complement Lott, Puckett, Dunaway, and the rest of the offense. Bean's speed gave the Patriots another player who could get to the corner to stretch defenses and keep them honest. He showed that creativity in spurts Friday. Little did anyone know it would be on the game's only touchdown drive. 


"It was fantastic," Donahoe said. "(Bean) is going to watch film and be sick in his stomach that he didn't hit Cade in the end zone because we had an open receiver. 


"Overall, it was just great. (The Wildcat) put the ball into one of our better ballplayer's hands and created situations where we could make plays and let him make plays. It was something that really paid off for us." 


Heritage Academy, which had great field position all afternoon, started the game-winning drive at the Magnolia Heights 41 with 10 minutes, 20 seconds to go in the second quarter. Lott hit Puckett with a screen pass for 15 yards on first down. Puckett then broke off 10 more yards to give the Patriots a first down at the Chiefs' 14. Another 3-yard gain by Puckett set the stage for Bean, who took a direct snap and went 8 yards to give Heritage Academy a first-and-goal at the 3. Bean burst up the middle on the next play for a touchdown. Graham McCain's extra point accounted for the final margin. 


"They were screaming Wildcat every time we got in, so they had definitely seen it on film," Bean said. "It really opens things up. Like I said the last time, I can pass out of it, but I am more of a runner. It might go outside. It goes either way. It just brings a bunch of different threats to the table." 


Bean didn't have any problem giving credit to the front eight of the Heritage Academy defense. He said his teammates helped contain running back Fernando Van Hook, even though he rushed for 153 yards on 32 carries. 


Donahoe said the confidence the Patriots had in their defense allowed them not to panic each time after failing to capitalize on the scoring chances. Even though penalties limited the offense, Donahoe said the Patriots played "disciplined" football in that they didn't commit a turnover. 


"I felt like at any time we were going to break it and have a big play. We just never did," Donahoe said. "it was tremendous to watch our guys respond and play. At the same time, I wish I we would have had a little more offensive production. It is going to be one of those things that I will be frustrated with some things I see. But we were still able to execute some things that we needed to to put them in bad situations from a field position standpoint to get the ball back into our hands, to drive the ball down, and to flip field position. 


"All season we have seemed to play in bad field position. This game, we consistently played with field position. It paid off for us." 


In the end, 197 yards of offense was enough on an afternoon the Patriots allowed only 180. A performance like that is enough to make any player smile, even if his cameo as Tebow doesn't make the final highlight reel. 


"It feels great," Bean said when asked what it feels like to wear the championship medal around his neck. "There is no better feeling in the world." 





Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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