January 30, 2018 11:32:51 PM
STARKVILLE -- Lex Rogers is sticking to his story.
The Heritage Academy junior doesn't care there were plenty of fans on the sideline watching Tuesday night at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Rogers knows he can go faster.
The earnest look on Rogers' face following his assessment makes you want to believe him. Still, seeing him sprint for 40-plus yards to beat at least two defenders and track down a lead pass would lead you to believe Rogers is in pretty good shape in his return to the lineup.
Rogers scored two goals in the first half and helped create the pressure that led to the third goal in the Heritage Academy boys soccer team's 3-2 victory against Starkville Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Division III Class AAA North, District 2 match.
"I love (being back)," said Rogers, who is in his first full week back after missing two to three months after a high ankle sprain and a partially torn ligament. "I have been missing it for a while. I am still trying to get into shape."
Rogers didn't look like someone in his first week back in the first half. In the 20th minute, he appeared to shift into sixth gear and bypass at least two defenders to run onto a lead pass. After he gained possession at around 25 yards out, he had time to slip the ball underneath the goalkeeper.
The second goal turned into another footrace that Rogers won as he beat the Volunteers to the lead pass and gave the Patriots a 2-1 lead.
"That is what our strong point is: counters," said Rogers, who didn't play in the first meeting against Starkville Academy. "We're not very strong on our passing all throughout. I think counters are our best game."
Rogers said the Patriots did well in his absence in moving the ball around the field. He said his return to the lineup gives the team another "outlet" to attack teams.
"I cannot say enough about him," Heritage Academy coach Joe Asadi said.
The win, Heritage Academy's second 3-2 result against Starkville Academy, helped it secure the No. 1 seed in the district for the first round of the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 19. The top two teams from district two will make the playoffs and be paired against the top two squads from District 1, which features Bayou Academy, Indianola Academy, Lee Academy, Marshall Academy, and St. Joseph Catholic School.
The eventual game-winner came off a cross by Rogers from the left wing that deflected off the hands of the goalkeeper. It appeared the officials initially ruled the goal off, but the referee's assistant on the far side ruled that the whole ball did cross the goal line. After the game, Rogers affirmed the call.
Cameron McKee and Campbell Spivey scored goals for Starkville Academy. Spivey's came in the second half off a header following initial contact that came after a McKee corner kick.
Starkville Academy applied consistent pressure in the second half but failed to get the equalizer.
Heritage Academy also had two great scoring chances late that could have helped it put the game away, but one shot went high over the crossbar and the other went wide.
Starkville Academy took a 1-0 lead in the first minute off a lead pass down the right wing. The ball was crossed into the middle and was punched out by the goalkeeper to McKee, who had time with the goalkeeper out into the box to slide it home.
"That is the second time this season someone has scored in the first minute and everyone looks around and says, 'What are we going to do?' " Asadi said. "I told them they couldn't worry about it and that they had to win a game for the championship, that we didn't come over here just to play."
Heritage Academy capitalized on Rogers' speed to score two counterattacking goals. Outside of those scores, though, the Volunteers pushed the Patriots deep into their half of the field. Heritage Academy relied on its defense to work back to deny a Starkville Academy an open look on the left wing. Center back Reuben Proffitt also cleared a ball that was rolling toward the goal line to help preserve the Patriots' 2-1 halftime lead.
Asadi told his players to expect 80 minutes of "torture" and to be ready "to run your guts out." He praised his defense for regrouping in the second half and playing better.
Asadi said Heritage Academy would return to practice today to shore up issues he saw in the first half so the team is prepared for the postseason. In 2016, Heritage Academy won the North State title.
Rogers isn't sure if the Patriots can get back to that level to play for a state title, but he liked the fight and perseverance his teammates displayed in his absence. Now that his foot is out of a cast and a boot, Rogers hopes to get even faster so he can be even deadlier.
"Next time we see them, I should be better," Rogers said. "That is what I am counting on."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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