September 8, 2017 10:18:51 AM
Everybody wants to be in Sean Harrison's position after three weeks.
At 3-0, the Heritage Academy football coach likes what he has seen from his football team. While the Patriots have posted a shutout and scored more than 40 points in two of their victories, the school's second-year head coach sees plenty of room for growth that he hopes will help fuel a deep run in the playoffs.
A gauge of Heritage Academy's ability to do that could come at 7 tonight when Heritage Academy plays host to Lamar School at C.L. Mitchell Field.
Last season, Lamar School, which is a Mississippi Association of Independent School (MAIS) Class AAAA, Division II school, beat Heritage Academy 26-6. In 2015, Lamar School earned a 47-7 victory. Harrison hopes to flip the script tonight.
"Lamar is probably the best team we have played so far," Harrison said. "We talked to the secondary (earlier in the week) about how they have a chance to be the best secondary in the state and this is their chance to prove it.
"Lamar is by far the best passing team we have seen. We are going to give up yards to them. Any time someone is throwing the ball 60 times a game you're going to have a bust here or there and they are going to make a play. They have a great running back, too, but I am more confident in my defense than I have ever been going into a Lamar game."
Harrison said the Patriots' ability to "take care of the little things" has aided the 3-0 start. He said the offense led by sophomore quarterback Carter Putt and senior running back Dontae Gray has excelled in part because it hasn't turned the ball over. In a 42-16 victory against Wayne Academy last week, Harrison said Putt showed maturation from a 3-0 victory against Manchester Academy the previous week. He said Putt showed quicker decision-making and continued to take care of the football. Meanwhile, Gray, who rushed for 184 yards, offered glimpses of his escapability in nearly one half of work. He and many of the Patriots' starters took the second half off after the officials started the running clock in the second quarter.
That likely won't be the case tonight against an opponent that already has lost to Starkville Academy 43-21. That score, though, was closer than margin indicated. Harrison knows his defense, particularly the secondary, will be challenged tonight by coach Mac Barnes' passing attack. He said he is eager to see how his players respond.
Harrison praised the contributions of junior Lex Rogers. Asked to do more than kick this season, Rogers has emerged as a solid performer at defensive back. He made a key tackle to save a score against Wayne Academy. His punting also is flipping the field in key situations and taking the pressure off the team's defense. His field goal also won the game against Manchester Academy.
"If we were voting for an MVP right now, he would have to be the pick," Harrison said. "He is getting consistent in kicking the ball in the end zone. Punting wise, he has done a great job. His punting in the Manchester game won it for us. His field goal kicking has been huge, and his play at corner and on punt return have been huge. He is catching every ball that is kicked, so we are not getting the long rolls that hurt us last year."
"The example is being set by several of them. The other ones are buying into it, so it is a good deal."
Harrison said he would like to get Rogers more involved at wide receiver because he feels he is one of the team's best options at that position. Rogers might have to wait his turn, though, because players like Moak Griffin, JR Lott, and Eli Acker could see even bigger roles. Harrison envisions adding plenty of wrinkles as the season progresses to give the offense an opportunity to capitalize on all of its weapons.
A chance to prove it against a higher classification team would bolster the Patriots' confidence and give them a boost in terms of power points for playoff seeding. But Harrison believes his players won't read too much into the game and will treat it just like the first three on the schedule.
"You worry about them putting too much into the results after the fact than you do going into the game," Harrison said. "I do want them to think this is a playoff game -- the most important game of the season -- just like last week was and the week before that and next week will be."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
1. Mitchell joins MSU's 'scooter gang' COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Green has presence on outside of Grantham's defense COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Upshaw, No. 1 EMCC set to face ICC COLLEGE SPORTS
5. MSU offensive line will face another challenge at Georgia COLLEGE SPORTS