Heritage School one victory away from GISA state football championship
By DOUG GORMAN
When The Heritage School Hawks football team crashes through the banner tonight just minutes before the start of the GISA Class AAA state championship against Deerfield-Windsor in Albany, head coach Kevin Prisant might have a brief flashback or two.
It’s only been 10 years since Prisant donned a Deerfield-Windsor uniform and helped the Knights capture their first state title. He will no doubt fight to keep his emotions in check.
Heritage School is on the verge of playing it its biggest football game ever as it goes for the school’s first state title. Once the game kicks off, it will be all about business and not who he sees on the other side.
“It is the state championship game, so it doesn’t get any bigger than this, period,” he said.”The mentality we have taken is ... this is just another game ... and you have to. Our kids have done a really good job of understanding ‘Why change anything this week?’ It’s gotten us here and it might not win it for us, but we are going to take our best shot.”
The Hawks have averaged nearly 42 points per game, while the Knights have scored little more than 35 points per contest. Both schools have given up about 14 points per game.
Heritage School entered the season with some doubts as it jumped from GISA Class AA to AAA. But the team has shown it belongs in GISA’s highest level of competition after compiling an 11-1 record this year. The impressive season includes winning the school’s first region title.
Deerfield-Windsor, at 12-1, is no stranger to playing big games under longtime head coach Allen Lowe. Since their first title in 2002, the Knights have made it to seven semifinal rounds and four other championship games including tonight’s.
As for Heritage School, it’s the first time in its seven-year varsity history that it has advanced past the first round.
“I am so glad these kids are getting to experience it,” Prisant said. “They know what is is like with the David and Goliath, getting their heads kicked in early and then now to this."
A year ago, the Hawks enjoyed a school-record eight wins, but now the foundation has been laid for even better seasons.
“We are to the point now where we aren’t just hoping we can get to the playoffs, but we can get there and make some noise,” Prisant said. “They are working hard and they are excited, but they are at the level they need to be.”
Heritage School pieced together several statement wins this year, beating Southland and Mt. De Sales, but it was its victory against Stratford that served as a huge confidence builder for the Hawks.
“Beating these Macon teams showed us that we had a really good chance to make a run in the playoffs,” Prisant said. “I didn’t know if we really had a shot to win it all, but I thought we could really make some noise. When we play well, and things go our way, we are pretty tough.”
The Hawks made their reservations to the championship game with a 42-10 victory over Westfield School.
Deerfield-Windsor comes into the game with plenty of tradition. The Knights have won three state GISA titles in the last decade, reaching the finals from 2008-10 and winning two championships.
“They are a beast,” Prisant said. “We are playing a whole new monster this week.”
The Knights secured their spot in tonight’s state title game with a 24-17 victory over Stratford. The Macon team knocked Deerfield-Windsor out the playoffs a year ago.
Tonight’s contest will feature a game-changing player on both rosters. The Hawks' Candler Rich, who is being recruited by Ivy League Schools Yale and Princeton, has rushed for 1,805 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Deerfield-Windsor’s best offensive weapon is Kh’Ron McClain, who is also a force on offense, defense and special teams for the Knights. McClain scored twice last week for Deerfield-Windsor and also blocked a punt.
The GISA all-state running back is helped out by Knights' 310-pound linebacker Patrick Forrestal who has committed to the Naval Academy.
Rich has also caught passes six touchdowns and returned four punts for scores. His performance last week helped the Hawks turn a close 7-3 game at the end of the first quarter into the rout, building a 28-3 lead at the half. Rich finished the game with rushing scores of 92 and 84 yards. He also caught a 75-yard pass from Joe Bonner. He ended his impressive night with a 10-yard run.
“We have a lot of great players, but he is an absolute game breaker,” Prisant said.”We would not be here without him. When he takes over a game, it’s pretty fun to watch. When he decides to do something, it is through the roof. He is just a smart kid.”
Heritage School began the season without starting quarterback Joe Bonner, but didn’t miss a beat with sophomore Brad Macke lining up under center. The sophomore quarterback, who should be favorite to take over as the starter next year, passed for 356 yards and six touchdowns.
“He did a really good job of managing the game,” Prisant said. “Our kids did a really good job of staying behind him, and picking up the slack where they needed to.”
Making those adjustments when needed showed Prisant his team is growing up.
“We don’t have the depth that some teams have, but that heart in their chest is pretty big,” he said.
Playing against his alma mater pits Prisant the student, against his former coach in Lowe.
“I have learned a lot from him and I use a lot of what I learned playing from him,” Prisant said.
Defensively, the Knights will bring plenty of speed at the Hawks in an effort to slow down Heritage School's running game.
“They are the fastest defense we have seen all year,” Prisant said. “We are going to have to rely on guys to make the reads. We may not look like an awful lot when we get off the bus, but we are pretty scrappy after we get off the bus.”
Heritage School will follow the same type of schedule it has all season for road games.
“We are going to leave school after lunch, eat our pre-game meal somewhere along the way, and then get ready to play some football,” Prisant said.
The Hawks’ second-year coach is proud of the way his team is approaching the game.
“Each week, we have been approaching it like it is the biggest game in school history,” Prisant said. “When we played our first Triple-A game against Southland, that was the biggest game in school history. When we played De Sales for our first region game, that was our biggest game in school history. And we just keep winning, so each game became the biggest game in school history, so they are used to these big games. So having all those big games has been big for us, and I think we are ready.”