October 29, 2013 10:39:34 AM
Eight is great, but Barrett Donahoe wants more.
That's a natural feeling, especially when you consider Donahoe guided the Heritage Academy football team to seven victories last season. Each one of the final five, though, grew bigger and bigger on the way to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state title.
Donahoe hopes the Patriots follow a similar climb this season. To accomplish that goal, Donahoe wants Heritage Academy to take care of its business starting at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Magnolia Heights (7-2, 4-2) at C.L. Mitchell Field. A victory would all but guarantee Heritage Academy a spot in the playoff, would erase the need to win at Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the final week of the regular season, and would eliminate the need for Patriots fans to track Twitter updates for out-of-town scores.
If that sounds easy, you have another thing coming.
"We don't enjoy success. Period," Donahoe said Friday night following a 14-10 victory against Starkville Academy. Heritage Academy's defense rose to the challenge and defended three consecutive passes and then smothered a designed rollout by the quarterback to preserve the victory that pushed the team to 8-2 and 3-2 in the division. It is the fifth time the program has recorded eight wins in the regular season dating back to 1994. The Patriots reached that mark in 2005 (lost in Class AAA, Division II title game), 1999 (lost to Centreville in Class AAA state title game), 1998, and 1994.
Heritage Academy has reached that lofty perch by taking the best shot of nearly every team it has played. Earlier in the season, it weathered the challenge of an improved Oak Hill Academy and scored late for a big home victory. On Friday, it marched 80 yards on its opening possession and then had to grind out a victory against an opponent looking for a victory against a rival to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Things won't get any easier for Heritage Academy in the final two weeks, but Donahoe said winning is the elixir that will make everything go down smoother.
"Could we get in if we don't (win)? Yeah, we can, but we don't want to be in the situation we have to win at MRA in a very tough ballgame, or we don't want Pillow Academy to have to lose," Donahoe said. "You want to win and let it take care of itself. We would like to come away with this one, one way or another."
Last season, Heritage Academy lost to Magnolia Heights 14-13 in a regular-season game in Senatobia. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 10-3 in the Class AAA, Division II championship game at Mississippi College in Clinton.
This season, Donahoe feels the game against Magnolia Heights will be the most intense matchup of the season. He expects to see a potent running attack and a stout defense -- much like he and the Patriots faced in 2012 -- but he also feels his players and coaches sense the "urgency" that is in the air on campus.
Donahoe said junior quarterback David Herrington and junior running back Travis Beam, a 5-foot-10, 205-pounder, will lead coach Cliff Young's offense. He said Beam is as tough a running back as the Patriots have faced. On defense, he said the Chiefs have the biggest defensive front his team has played this season. He called the defense "brutal" and hopes his array of skill-position players, led by senior quarterback Austin Fitch and senior running backs Hunter Anderson and parker Short will provide big plays.
"We have won eight ballgames. That is an accomplishment for these guys. We have two more. We have to win one. Wipe it off the memory?" Donahoe said. "I am not pleased with the way we played offensively in the second half. We just never got in that flow. I have to go back and look at the play calling. I am not sure that I called the greatest game in the second half. I thought we had some open looks. It is a win, a conference win against Starkville Academy. The seniors are giving us a lot of effort and I want them to enjoy it. Like we said at the end of the game, focus on giving us seven solid days of preparation, everything you have got mentally and physically. This is it right here. If you want to win the North State championship, this is it right here, so we have to get that going."
Donahoe praised the efforts of Fitch, who was 9 of 11 Friday night. He said the Patriots need to improve on a recent trend that has seen them go -6 in turnovers the past three weeks. He feels Fitch can help the Patriots in that area by managing the game even better.
"He did a great job the other night," Donahoe said. "He threw one ball in the middle of the field that Logan made a catch on that I felt was a little of a high-risk throw. He did a good job checking down and getting the guys out in the flats. We had gone to a little bit of a different look with our protection, which allowed us to get the back our of the backfield and opened up five receivers in routes. Those are things we have to do to be successful."
Looking back, Donahoe smiled and said maybe the Patriots should have thrown the ball a little more against Starkville Academy, but he credited the Volunteers for their blitz schemes and for controlling the ball in the second half to limit the number of plays they ran. Donahoe has come to expect things like that, though, especially since the bull's eye from winning a state title last season gets bigger as its gets later in the 2013 season.
"I like our chances at home," Donahoe said. "I like our chances with the group we have got and putting these guys out there and telling them let's go win a ballgame."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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