COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — The Heritage Academy football team didn't want to be in this situation.
But looking back and wondering what could have been isn't going to help the Patriots. Instead, coach Barrett Donahoe's team is going to have to stay focused on helping itself and making sure it plays its best game of the season at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays at Madison-Ridgeland Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 1 matchup.
A victory secures a playoff spot for Heritage Academy (8-3, 3-3 Class AAA, District 1, Division II). A loss means Heritage Academy will have to keep its Twitter handles crossed and hope Starkville Academy can beat Pillow Academy (4-6, 2-4). Pillow Academy beat Heritage Academy in the regular season and holds the edge if the teams end the regular season tied.
Even though the game is a week shy of the playoffs, Donahoe makes no mistake what kind of atmosphere his team will face Friday night.
"We just told the guys they need to prepare for this game like it is any other playoff game," Donahoe said. "That is essentially what it is for us. If we don't win, we have the ability to get in with somebody else's loss, which is a high possibility.
"Everybody knows about it, so we don't really talk much about it. We will just wait and see what are outcome is, and if we don't have a positive outcome, we'll get our information and see if we are in the playoffs. If we are, we will come back and get ready for Lamar. If not, we will go to basketball season."
Heritage Academy still controls its destiny after a 47-13 loss to Magnolia Heights because Pillow Academy lost to Washington School 28-14.
As good as Magnolia Heights looked Friday night against Heritage Academy, Donahoe believes his team might be in for an even tougher challenge against MRA (7-3, 5-1 Division I). He said MRA has size, speed, strength, and could be the most talented squad his team faces this season.
Heritage Academy will have to prepare for that challenge after taking a loss that "kicked us in the gut pretty good." He credited the Chiefs for playing well up front and for having a strong a dual-threat running attack as his team has faced this season.
"I just think we got a little bit overwhelmed with their size and strength up front," Donahoe said. "Any time you're able to mesh up linemen on safeties and linemen on linebackers and you have running backs who can make one man miss all night, it is going to get ugly."
As tough as it has been on his team for playing in its 12th week in a row without a break, Donahoe said it isn't time to make excuses or to get down on itself after a disappointing home loss. He knows MRA won't take it easy on his group just because it needs to win to get back to the playoffs to defend its Class AAA, Division II title.
"We need to be able to control the ball," Donahoe said. "We need to get 20 first downs if we are going to win the football game. We are going to have to control the clock and make some of those possessions count by scoring. It is going to be a challenge for us."
Donahoe said the Patriots will be without senior wide receiver/defensive back Cody Mordecai, who hurt his knee last week. He said senior Blake Ballard likely would move into the lineup and sophomore Michael Ledbetter would shift to cornerback.
Donahoe also said Heritage Academy will be without senior lineman Josh Foxworthy due to injury.
"We just have to get some defensive linemen in there who want to get low and try to do everything they can do to keep those linemen off our linebackers," Donahoe said. "If we'll get down and create double teams and keep our linebackers free, we'll be OK. If we don't, we're not going to be OK. That is the key right there."
Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com