September 11, 2009 9:04:00 AM
Brad Butler and Mac Barnes agree on one thing: Their teams will face their toughest tests of the season tonight.
The coaches are eager to find out which team''s strength will win out tonight (7) when Heritage Academy (3-0) goes on the road to take on The Lamar School (3-0).
The size and the experience of the Patriots'' line play figures to be a strength Butler''s team will try to exploit against an opponent that has only one player who weighs more than 200 pounds on its defensive line and one two who tip the scales at more than 200 pounds on the offensive line.
"We feel like (our size and experience up front) is going to have to be (a key to the game)," Butler said. "If is not we''re going to have a long night. That has to be an area where we''re going to be better than they are. Hopefully we can control the ball and keep it out of their quarterback''s hands."
Heritage Academy wants to keep the ball away from senior quarterback Witt Haggard, who threw for 31 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards last season and went on to earn first-team All-State honors.
Haggard''s biggest weapon is 6-foot-3 senior wide receiver Bo Bidgood, who had nine catches (five for touchdowns) for more than 200 yards last week in a 55-28 victory against Central Hinds Academy.
Bidgood had 19 touchdowns (10 receiving) last season.
"We can run the ball, we have good skill people, and we''re throwing the football well right now," Barnes said.
On defense, Barnes said his team will have to mix its formations and looks to try to confuse the Patriots. He hopes his team''s speed will help it negate some of Heritage Academy''s size advantage.
Barnes said the loss of five starters to injuries hasn''t helped his team, which has been forced to use as many as four players on both sides of the field.
"We''re still trying to replace people and figure out what to do on the defensive side of the ball," Barnes said.
A season-ending injury to running back John Laws Ferguson has hurt Heritage Academy, but Butler likes his team''s depth at running back. He said a key will be developing better run-pass balance so teams don''t stack the line of scrimmage to stop the Patriots'' running game.
Butler said he has all of the confidence that quarterback Will Swedenburg will continue to emerge as a passing threat.
"Will is up to that responsibility," Butler said. "It is something we all realize we have got to take advantage of. If someone is sitting in one-on-one coverage, we have to be able to capitalize on that by throwing the football."
Heritage Academy is coming off a 46-23 victory against Starkville Academy. Butler said the teams'' high-scoring ways last week doesn''t guarantee that tonight''s game will be a shootout.
"I don''t know (how we''re going to stop them)," Butler said. "Hopefully we will be able to get some pressure on the quarterback and disrupt his timing with the wide receiver. We also will have to keep the quarterback contained. He is very dangerous if he is flushed out of the pocket."
Butler also knows his team has to get off to a faster start. He said the Patriots can''t afford to start games like they did last week when they trailed 10-7 in the second quarter.
"If we wait until the end of the second quarter (tonight) it may be too late," Butler said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.