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Missed opportunities plague Heritage Academy against Lamar School

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

Sean Harrison walked out to the hash mark and put his arm around his Carter Putt. 

 

Instead of ranting and raving, the Heritage Academy football coach wanted to talk to his sophomore quarterback so he could understand what he saw on the interception in the second quarter in the red zone. 

 

In the third quarter, Moak Griffin fell to his knees in the end zone and tucked his head into the grass. The Heritage Academy defensive back kicked in his feet into the ground after quarterback Joseph Hutchinson whistled a pass by him to JD McGrew for a touchdown. 

 

Those two images summed up the contrasting fortunes Friday night in Lamar School's 27-3 victory against Heritage Academy at C.L. Mitchell Field. 

 

The Patriots (3-1) didn't have an answer for Hutchinson, a 6-foot-6 junior quarterback, who was 21-for-31 for 249 yards.  

 

In addition to his touchdown pass to McGrew, Hutchinson connected with Elon Presley on a 19-yard scoring strike. JD Lee also rushed for two touchdowns to help the Class AAAA Raiders (1-3) erase the sting of losses to Starkville Academy (43-21), Jackson Academy (21-14), and Newton County (44-20). Lamar School beat reigning Alabama state champion Bessemer Academy 42-21 on Aug. 11, but coach Lamar School coach Mac Barnes said his team "never really got over" that victory prior to his team's official opener. 

 

Heritage Academy had its chances. The Patriots reached the red zone four times but could muster only Lex Rogers' 24-yard field goal late in the second quarter. Two of the drives ended in interceptions, the first of the season for Putt, who is in his first season as the team's starting quarterback. 

 

"Four red-zone trips. Twenty-eight points instead of three," Harrison said. "The boys had the look on their faces after the game like coach Harrison is fixin' to scream at us. We're a young and inexperienced group running up against a Mac Barnes-coached team, you put a young, inexperienced group out there, like I always say, my kids already are at a disadvantage because we're getting outcoached, so it is going to be a great learning film. It goes back to finishing. We didn't finish. They did." 

 

The first proved the most costly. The Patriots appeared primed to answer the Raiders' opening score after Putt hit Jared Long on a 36-yard pass play to give the team a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. But sophomore Moak Griffin fumbled a direct snap on first down and lost 11 yards to push the Patriots back to the 17. Putt appeared to throw behind sophomore H-back Eli Acker on second down to set up third down. Putt rolled to his right and threw into a crowd only to see Lamar School's Luke Graham emerge with the football. 

 

"My sophomore was trying to be Brett Favre, I think," Harrison said. "He saw Moak coming across. I think Moak stopped thinking he was in a window. Carter thought he was going to keep running. He was trying to make a play. Middle of the field on third down, that is OK. Red zone, he is going to learn. He is going to watch the film and he is going to be fine, but red zone, let's live for fourth down and get a field goal at least." 

 

The Raiders, the reigning Class AAA, Division II champions, didn't waste any time seizing momentum in the second half. Lamar School took the opening possession and went 13 plays in 3 minutes, 50 seconds. Two penalties, including a 15-yard face mask infraction, aided Lamar School's cause. Hutchinson was equally effective, going 4-for-5 on the drive to give the Raiders control. 

 

"That was critical," Barnes said. "We had lost momentum and we were very fortunate to be up 7-3." 

 

Barnes said Hutchinson, a transfer from West Lauderdale High School, took over at quarterback last season when starter Davis Harrison was injured. Since then, Barnes said Hutchinson has developed to mature into the leader of the Raiders' offense. The presence of senior running back Johntavis McClelland (15 carries, 111 yards) and senior receivers like Presley and Graham add to Hutchinson's effectiveness. 

 

"The quarterback is a heck of a player," Harrison said. "I will be shocked if he isn't a Division I quarterback somewhere. He is getting the best coaching he could possibly get, so he is going to develop and do well." 

 

Still, the lanky quarterback makes defending the Raiders a challenge by using good footwork, a quick release, and a strong arm to zip the ball around the field. No other completion exemplified Hutchinson's qualities than the completion to Presley. The Patriots appeared to have the end zone well covered on fourth down, but Hutchinson's arm strength allowed him to find the lane to connect with Presley. 

 

"He can really throw the football," Barnes said of Hutchinson, who started Lamar School's two playoff games even when Harrison returned. "We are one of the few high school football teams that can line up and throw it a lot of times and have a lot of success." 

 

Barnes also credited a new formation in which the Raiders put two of their better blockers in the backfield to go with their running backs for fueling a ground game that amassed 197 yards on 32 carries. He said Friday marked the first time the Raiders have used the scheme. 

 

"In the second half, even though we made some mistakes, I thought we had some fire," Barnes said. 

 

Meanwhile, Lamar School's defense made things tough on Heritage Academy. Even though senior running back Dontae Gray had 14 carries for 95 yards, the Patriots never were able to get him rolling to where he could take over the game. The Raiders' front had something to do with that, as they helped pressure Putt and flush him out of the pocket at inopportune times. The penetration helped the defense record four sacks. 

 

Harrison credited Barnes and the Raiders for preventing the Patriots from finishing. While Harrison liked what he saw from Griffin in a bigger role in the offense, he said the Patriots have plenty of things to address, especially eliminating unneeded penalties, as they begin preparations for their game next week at Pillow Academy.  

 

"We have to prepare better," Harrison said. "Practice has to be better. Practice has to be more up-tempo. We get caught up as a coaching staff in let's quick whistle every play because we don't need folks being tackled to the ground because we can't get any anybody injured, but you walk the fine line when you get out here they are used to taking three steps on their blocks and the play is blown dead and they play like it. 

 

"I have to take a look in the mirror and prepare these guys better, and, like I said, they are a young group. They are going to learn. The Kirk game, the defense wasn't great. We come back the next game against Manchester and the defense was great. The Manchester game, the offense wasn't great and we came back the next game (against Wayne Academy) and it was great. Tonight, they were both good. We just didn't finish. We are right on the verge. We're going to keep working." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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