August 23, 2013 10:58:05 AM
Cody Mordecai doesn't shoot skeet, but he throws a wicked curveball.
Depending on your perspective, Mordecai's first and only pass attempt Thursday night appeared a cross between a wayward football that floated through the air like a clay disk and a hanging curveball he hoped didn't get taken deep.
Logan Bell didn't care about the aesthetics of Mordecai's pass. All he knew is he had to move to make a play on the ball. Bell's decision to break back on the ball and his timing to go up and catch the fluttering offering was just one of a handful of key plays the Heritage Academy football team used to earn a 35-14 victory against Caledonia High School in the season opener for both teams at C.L Mitchell Field.
"I know. That was pitiful," Mordecai said of his pass that looked ill fated until Bell made his move. "That is the first time I have ever thrown a ball with my gloves on. It just came out of my hand wrong."
Leading 14-7 in the third quarter and facing a fourth-and-12 from the Caledonia 28, Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe called for a slot receiver pass out of a reverse. Quarterback Austin Fitch took the handoff and moved to his right to give it to Mark Thatcher, who was moving in from the right. Thatcher raced back to the center of the field where he found Mordecai, who was sprinting from the left side of the field back to the Patriots' sideline. Thatcher, who was wearing a pair of red receiver's gloves, gave the ball to Mordecai, who was wearing a pair of white gloves with black adhesive markings on the palm. The only problem is the exchange came so quickly Mordecai had little time to grip the ball or to find the right spot on the glove to put the football so he could get a good handle on it.
"I really don't know," Mordecai said when asked how you throw a football when you're wearing receiver's gloves. "I was thinking about taking my glove off, but I thought it would be obvious."
As soon as Mordecai looked up, he saw Bell was wide open, so he tried to do the smart thing and get him the ball before the defense reacted. His timing was spot on if he was throwing a breaking ball on an 0-2 count.
"It looked like my curveball," Mordecai said. "I think that is what that pass was. I didn't think it was going to get there. I thought they were going to intercept it."
Bell didn't let that happen. The senior wide receiver stopped at the goal line with one defender and realized the ball was hanging up for anyone to get. His break back on the ball allowed him to move past a second defender who was hustling into the fray and to keep the play in front of him. He jumped in front of the second defender to snare the football and then scooted to his left past both players into the end zone.
"He is as good a receiver as you will find as far as playing the football," Donahoe said.
Donahoe praised Bell for relying on his experience to recognize he needed to come back for the ball. He said Bell and Thatcher are the Patriots' two most experienced receivers. A year ago, Bell made several key plays, but Donahoe said the Patriots didn't get him the ball as much as they hoped to. On Thursday, Donahoe felt the Patriots needed a spark, so he went unconventional and relied on his leaders to make a play.
"We played so well in between the 25 and the 25, and when we got inside the 25 we kind of had some breakdowns," Donahoe said. "We had a third-and-1 down here early and we kind of took a risk trying to do some play-action and they sent some pressure off the edge and got us. Did we take some chances? Yeah we did, but we came into this game thinking we had nothing to lose. Athletes. When we ran that play there were four athletes I have confidence in touching the ball, and all four of them touched the ball: My quarterback, my two slots, and my receiver who caught the ball. If we stretch the field on that play, if it is not within the red zone, it probably goes for a big touchdown play because I don't think they catch back up to it. Bell made a heck of a play going up over the top and making a snag and getting us some more points on the board.
"We were waiting for that one play. We had some shots we hadn't converted and we were waiting on one play to kind of kick us off, and that play did it."
The meeting was the third installment of the Lowndes County private-public school rivalry. A year ago, Caledonia controlled the line of scrimmage en route to a 20-7 victory. In 2011, Heritage Academy won a shootout 48-45.
The third chapter proved to be a change in the storyline. Heritage Academy used strong play up front to win at the point of attack. Its offensive line helped pave the way for a ground game that amassed 214 yards on 43 carries. It's defensive front made life difficult for quarterback Ben Marchbanks and running back Quavis Betts and limited the Confederates to 116 yards on 29 carries.
But as stout as the Patriots were up front, their aerial show provided a little flair. Next time, maybe Mordecai will take a page from Thatcher and have a towel with him so he can make sure his gloves are dry before he attempts a potential game-changing play.
"I was only worried about my pass to Cody," Thatcher said. "I knew they would execute the ball. Logan Bell made a great jump ball for it to get up there. I hoped he was going to get up there because I know Logan Bell has some hops."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.