September 1, 2014 7:49:40 PM
Barrett Donahoe will never give back a victory.
But the Heritage Academy football coach knows that his team has a lot of work to do if it is going to realize its potential this season. While the third-year coach saw positives and liked the way his players finished Friday night in a 21-8 victory against West Lowndes High School, Donahoe still feels there are plenty of areas to improve on if the Patriots are going to go where they want to go.
"We didn't see the step forward that we wanted to," Donahoe said. "We did a lot of good things but still made a lot of mental mistakes and had a couple of turnovers that we didn't have in week one that put us in bad situations."
Donahoe praised the effort of his defense and his wide receivers, particularly Walker Brown, for providing sparks. After trailing 8-0 for most of the first half, Heritage Academy's held for the remainder of the game and capitalized on big plays from Brown, who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Barker that helped tie the game at halftime.
Barker, a junior, and Tyler Anderson, a sophomore, both saw action at quarterback for the second-consecutive week for the Patriots. Against the Panthers, running back Mattox Heredia also delivered in a big way, rushing for two touchdowns in the second half to help the Patriots (1-1) bounce back from a season-opening loss to Caledonia.
Donahoe hopes to see continued progression from Barker and Anderson. He feels the Patriots have a variety of weapons in Brown and Hunter Sykes at wide receiver and Heredia, Cayden Upton, and Michael Ledbetter at running back. With so many of the Patriots playing both ways, though, Donahoe said attention to detail and conditioning will play important roles in the team's success.
"We have to see improvement from our running backs and our quarterbacks if we are going to be able to consistently put points on the board," Donahoe said.
Brown said the Patriots still started slowly against the Panthers, but he saw an improvement in execution and a better conditioned effort compared to the team's effort against Caledonia. The Confederates, a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A school, used their size and depth to wear the Patriots down in the second half. West Lowndes, a MHSAA Class 1A school, had opportunities in the second half to cut into Heritage Academy's lead, but two interceptions proved costly.
"The second half (against West Lowndes) was better mentally, physically -- mentally mainly because in the first half we came out real slow and should have been up by a lot," Brown said. "Coach Donahoe came into (the locker room) and was really, really mad and started yelling at us. It got us motivated. We came out with a better mentality and everybody was read to take the lead and win the game."
The Patriots' ability to finish and get a result was especially pleasing to Donahoe. He said he saw an "urgency" from his players to complete the game and protect their home field. He said the Patriots will need contributions from all of their skills players so they will have as many options as possible available to them on offense. That way, Donahoe said, Heritage Academy will be able to fill in some gaps and give some players rest so they will be fresher in the fourth quarter.
"We have to be able to continue (to stretch defenses with the passing game), and Mattox has to give us the effort he gave us at the end of the game every snap on the offensive side," Donahoe said. "He is one of those guys who is playing both ways, too. He does a really good job when he gets downhill. He has good speed, and we hope he will continue to improve the way that he did the other night."
Brown hopes to be a deep threat, even if he said Sykes is faster than him. He feels his ability to be a possession receiver who can complement the "physical" running style of Upton and Heredia and the speed of Ledbetter. He feels everyone knows there role and is becoming more comfortable with the offense.
"We have to continue to play hard and get in better shape," Brown said.
Donahoe said Ledbetter, who missed a majority of the second half with a hip pointer, practiced Monday and should be ready to go at 7 p.m. Friday when Heritage Academy returns to Mississippi Association of Independent Schools action and plays host to Winston Academy.
"We just have to keep getting better," Donahoe said. "Every week that goes by, the teams that we're playing are going to be getting better, just as we hope to do. It is going to be so important to continue to improve so we can be successful on Friday nights. Winston has a good ballteam. They are motivated to play this year and are playing hard. We have to come out and be a lot more crisp and have a lot more desire and want-to than we did against West Lowndes, especially early."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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