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Walters column: Heritage Academy focuses in on state championship big picture

 

Heritage Academy junior quarterback Carter Putt accounted for five touchdowns in Friday's 35-7 win over Kirk Academy

Heritage Academy junior quarterback Carter Putt accounted for five touchdowns in Friday's 35-7 win over Kirk Academy Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch

 

Scott Walters

 

 

Coach Sean Harrison will consistently remind his team that focusing one game at a time is the best way to win a state championship. 

 

However, his Heritage Academy Patriots definitely have the big picture in mind. 

 

In Harrison's first two seasons, the squad won 19 games. Poor placement in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) playoff bracket could be partially blamed for a second-round exit in the Class AAA playoffs. 

 

A year ago, Starkville Academy edged Heritage Academy 17-14 in the head-to-head meeting. That led to good positioning for the Volunteers and bad positioning for the Patriots. 

 

It also opened the door for Starkville Academy to win the state championship. 

 

Certainly, the sting of that should be felt for months to come. The two schools are rivals and always play entertaining football games together. 

 

With the recent drop down to Class AAA, the rivalry renewal means even more, with the winner having an inside track for that state championship. 

 

Now as 2018 begins, the Patriots are wanting their turn. 

 

"We talk about winning a state championship," Heritage Academy senior Moak Griffin said. "That hasn't always been the case, but it is right now, this year for this team. We have a lot of great players on offense and the defense has already proven it has a chance to be lights out." 

 

Many considered Barrett Donahoe as having done fine work when he coached the Patriots. However, the totals in those four seasons were 7-5, 8-5, 5-7 and 5-6. The school had gone six seasons without a winning record before Donahoe achieved that in each of his first two seasons. 

 

The success of those teams told Heritage Academy it could be competitive in big-time football. 

 

Now, Harrison has emerged and compiled the best two-season stretch since an identical 19-win total from 1998 and 1999. 

 

"It's just a different mind-set, we all believe," Heritage Academy junior Jared Long said. "We were close to a special season last year. That is why everybody has worked so hard in the offseason. It's a different attitude around the field house, around the weight room. It's no longer 'Can we do this?' but instead it's 'We will do this.'" 

 

In the season opener, Heritage Academy routed Kirk Academy 35-7 in a contest played in a driving rain storm Friday night in Columbus. Kirk went 1-9 in 2017. The Chargers aren't about to burst onto the scene this season either. 

 

That being said Heritage Academy did what good teams do. They lined up, battled the elements and stayed true to their identity of being a passing team. 

 

Junior Carter Putt threw for four touchdowns and rushed for another. Putt may have been the team's biggest surprise during last season's 9-3 campaign. 

 

Dontae Gray was a focal point of the Heritage Academy team a year ago. Gray was do-it-all, everywhere on the field guy. Typically, when an academy loses a player of that stature, it takes a year or two to recover. 

 

Instead, this Heritage Academy team may even be better. 

 

Junior Eli Acker is an Ole Miss commitment and he anchors a veteran defensive line. KJ Smith proved capable as Gray's replacement in the running game against Kirk Academy. 

 

"This team has some really big goals," Smith said. "Everybody on the outside looks at what we lost. The players inside the locker room look at what we have coming back. The togetherness of this team is through the roof. We feel like we can compete." 

 

Harrison should be proud of this team. They have an excellent mind-set. They believe they are one of the best teams in the state, but they don't do it in an arrogant, condescending tone. Instead, winning big games in the last two seasons has fostered an environment of being a championship contender. 

 

The Patriots are also doing this with a junior-dominant roster. The staying power for this squad is likely. 

 

"Fun to coach and willing to work everyday," Harrison said. "It's all we could ask for." 

 

Starkville Academy beat Lamar School 21-20 in Meridian in its season opener. The Starkville Academy-Heritage Academy game is set for Oct. 12 in Starkville. 

 

That will be a fun game. Still, lots of football to be played between now and then. 

 

No reason to think the Patriots won't relish each Friday night this season. 

 

Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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