October 20, 2017 11:05:39 AM
It's time to bounce back.
Sean Harrison was ready to do that 20 minutes after the Starkville Academy football team rallied to beta his Heritage Academy squad 17-14 on Friday night at C.L. Mitchell Field. The victory put Starkville Academy in a position where it can clinch the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 title tonight with a victory against Leake Academy in Starkville.
The loss denied Heritage Academy (7-2, 2-1 district) a chance to control its destiny and wrap up its second-straight division title with a victory tonight at Canton Academy (3-5, 1-2). Still, a victory by Leake Academy and a win by Heritage Academy would leave the teams tied with Starkville Academy and force a tiebreaker to determine which team wins the district title and the automatic playoff berth that goes with it.
While the district title drama will be decided later tonight, Harrison hopes the loss to Starkville Academy doesn't linger with his team because it still has bigger goals to achieve.
"I think they understand all of our goals are still in front of us," Harrison said. "I think they know went toe to toe with a really good team and felt short by one play and are itching to do what it takes to get the opportunity to play them again."
Noah Methvin hit Raegan Richardson with a 26-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining Friday to help the Volunteers rally. The score ruined what would have been a rousing final drive for the Patriots. Heritage Academy took over after a Starkville Academy fumble on the Volunteers' 29-yard line with 6 minutes, 55 seconds remaining. Moak Griffin's 15-yard run on third-and-3 gave the Patriots a first-and-goal at the 7. Dontae Gray (18 carries, 79 yards) broke through for a 1-yard run on fourth down with 3:10 to go to make it 14-10.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Volunteers went to their hurry-up offense and made the most of what little time remained.
"The film was a lot of what I expected," Harrison said. "It was two good teams that made really good plays. Each time one team slipped up, the other team made them pay for it, and it came down to one play.
"I thought our kids played hard, really hard. I thought they played really well. I think they got to see on film that when you play a really good team all 11 have to do their jobs. You can't slip by with one guy not doing his job because it cost us."
Harrison said he was proud of his defense for playing well against a quality opponent. He also praised his offense for moving the football against a disciplined defense. He said there wasn't one thing he could point to on film that was the reason for the Patriots' loss.
Harrison said Wednesday he hadn't had to remind the players to put the loss behind them. He feels the Patriots are going to keep working and won't be discouraged because they still have a lot to play for. Wins against Class AAAA Pillow Academy and Magnolia Heights have left Heritage Academy in a position where it likely will be one of the first seeded teams behind the top five. That would mean another home game in the first round of the playoffs. Harrison said that could be the first step to setting up a rematch against Starkville Academy to reach the state title game. He hopes the experience of playing in a big game will serve as a learning experience and motivation to play in a few more this season.
"It will be a lot of these kids' first win-or-go-home game," Harrison said of the first-round playoff game. "The message still holds true that I have been saying since last spring, every week is an experience. I think they will know what to expect when the game gets a little bigger, the crowd gets a little bigger, the game gets a little faster. I think they will be better prepared."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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