August 24, 2018 11:04:49 AM
Heritage Academy football coach Sean Harrison loves that his team is ahead of where it was at this point in 2017.
In a sport where defenses usually are still ahead of offenses in the first month, Harrison is relishing the fact that his defense might even be a little ahead of a "light years" pace.
Despite playing nearly all of the first half in a steady rain, Heritage Academy's defense was dominant last week in a 35-7 victory against Kirk Academy. Heritage Academy will try to build on that performance at 7 p.m. Friday when it goes on the road to play at Tupelo Christian Prep.
The Patriots delivered a stifling effort even without linebacker J.R. Lott, who was injured in jamboree action. Junior Reuben Proffitt stepped into Lott's spot and didn't miss a beat. Harrison also said junior Austin Dotson had a strong game in his first start behind a defensive line that rotated as many as eight players.
"I thought we really had a chance to be really good over there," Harrison said. "Game-one mistakes were made, but there are not many pictures where there are not eight to 11 guys around the football. There was one when we lost contain on the quarterback and he has nothing but green grass in front of him and suddenly eight guys appear in the picture and he gets a gain of 2."
Harrison said the Patriots were physical on both side of the field, which is another quality he loved in the opener. A 21-point outburst early in the third quarter erased a close game following a wet first half. He said junior running back Kelvin "K.J." Smith grinded out more than 100 yards and set the stage for a passing game that needed it to dry out to start clicking. Once it did, junior quarterback Carter Putt, junior Jared Long, and senior Moak Griffin went to work.
As much as the offense showed quick-strike capabilities, Harrison said the play of the defense was a highlight, especially considering Proffitt missed last season with an injury. Proffitt played defensive end as a ninth-grader.
"Reuben had an outstanding game," Harrison said. "It was his first time playing outside backer. He had three or four sacks, ran to the football well, and did well in coverage. That is something he had never done."
Harrison was pleased his defense made Kirk Academy's quarterback, who looked fast on film, look slow. He said the experience and depth on defense has enabled the coaches to put in almost the entire defense installed, which he said isn't something he wasn't able to do earlier in his tenure at the school.
Coupled with the depth up front and the experience in the secondary, the success of the linebackers, which Harrison said was a question mark in the preseason due to the inexperience, could complete a defense that has the potential to be dominating every week.
"Running that three-man front (on the defensive line) is huge for us," Harrison said. "Kids like Wills Wiygul, who didn't get to play much last year, has been able to step up. Ethan Howell is stepping up. We know we what have in Eli (Acker), Fox (Walters) and Clay (Walters). They are great defensive linemen, but the fact we can role in (Ethan) Bumgarner and (Seth) Harris (gives us a lot of depth). Getting Weston Lowery back at inside backer was big for us. He is laying great.
"Our defense has a chance to be really, really good. We are not having to bring that sixth guy every time to stop the run. I feel confident with the three defensive linemen and two inside backers to stop the run. It really frees (defensive coordinator) Russ (Whiteside) to really call what he wants and to get creative over there."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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