Minichino column: Heritage Academy riding high after win over rival

 

Heritage Academy junior Kelvin

Heritage Academy junior Kelvin "KJ" Smith led the ground game in the Patriots' rivalry win over Starkville Academy. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE 

 

Kissing babies and taking pictures with children of all ages usually are reserved for politicians. 

 

Moak Griffin doesn't see himself going down that road just yet. But Griffin wanted to be involved in every part of the celebration following the Heritage Academy football team's 21-7 victory against Starkville Academy on Friday night. 

 

After Griffin was the last Patriot through the handshake line, he skipped across the field like a little boy who had just received the No. 1 gift on his Christmas check list to join his teammates in front of their student section. 

 

"I just love this team," Griffin said. "We are brothers on this team. We break it down on family all of the time, and that is really a true statement because we are a family and we are brothers, and I love them to death." 

 

The celebration was more than a year in the making. 

 

A year ago, Starkville Academy rallied for a 17-14 victory against Heritage Academy in Columbus. The win propelled the Volunteers to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 title. Coach Chase Nicholson's team used that momentum to fuel a run to the Class AAA State championship. 

 

While Starkville Academy was winning a title, Griffin was wondering about his future. The multi-sport standout tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Adams County Christian Academy in a loss in the second round of the Class AAA playoffs. The injury denied Griffin a chance to be an active participant in the Heritage Academy boys basketball team's run to a state title. 

 

All of those things were percolating in Griffin's head as he accepted coach Sean Harrison's challenge to help lead the Patriots past their archrival. 

 

Griffin "only" had 69 yards rushing, but he had a 2-yard touchdown run and a back-breaking 48-yard touchdown scamper on a sweep to the right with 1 minute, 2 seconds left that sealed the deal. 

 

"There at the end, I knew they were going to be blitzing a lot, and I wanted to get the extra guy and that was him carrying the football," Harrison said. "A senior went and finished the game."  

 

Two plays earlier, Griffin slid in front of the Heritage Academy sideline in an effort to stay inbounds and to work the clock. The decision paid off because Starkville Academy was called for a personal foul on the play. But no play is harmless when you have Griffin's playmaking ability. Griffin stretched the run wide and turned the corner and saw nothing but green grass. 

 

When asked what it felt like to get to the edge and see no one in front of you and the goal line to decide a rivalry game, Griffin said, "I just knew coach Harrison told me I had to get a first down. I followed K.J.'s block on the edge and I just ran as fast as I could." 

 

Harrison already is blessed to have weapons like quarterback Carter Putt, running back Kelvin "K.J." Smith, and wide receiver Jared Long to name only three. Griffin gives the Patriots a dual threat who can take a direct snap and beat a defense with his speed. He also can take pitches or catch passes and even be a decoy to create one-on-one matchups for his teammates. Griffin doesn't mind whatever role he has to play because he wants to do everything possible to make this season special. 

 

Harrison said he will do what he can to ensure Griffin continues to get opportunities. 

 

"I just put it in the senior's hands and trusted him to go make a play," Harrison said. "He wanted this game bad, so I put it in his hands." 

 

Griffin said he used the thought of a rematch against Starkville Academy as a driving force to motivate him in his rehabilitation from the ACL injury. He said he didn't know the exact date the game would be played, but he looked forward for the chance to earn revenge. When Harrison told Griffin he planned to put the ball in his hands at the end of the game, he didn't hesitate to make something happen, which is why everyone flocked around him after the game.  

 

Griffin hoisted Ellis Whiteside, the son of defensive coordinator Russ Whiteside, and hugged him to his body as the celebration continued around him. After Griffin put Ellis down, a flock of children and parents converged on him to take a few more pictures to capture the moment. There weren't any babies, so Griffin didn't have to hand out any kisses. He just had to stand there and soak it in and let his smile speak for itself. 

 

Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor. 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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