Roles reversed for Heritage School, Mount de Sales for region opener

If Friday’s football game between The Heritage School and Mount de Sales held five or six years ago in the GISA, both teams would probably have been on the other side of their current situations.
Boy have times changed. Or at least the 5-0 Hawks hope so.
Undefeated after five games for the first time in its seven-year football history, the confidence level of head coach Kevin Prisant’s Heritage School lineup may have equally been at an all-time high heading into last week’s bye.
Prisant and defensive coordinator D.J. Clay, however, made plans to curtail some of their boldness knowing they’ll be playing a much better lineup than Mount de Sales’ 1-5 record appears as both teams open Region 2-AAA play in Macon.
The Cavaliers, who have won 305 games and a whopping 12 GISA titles as its largest-playing football program, have been as much the victim of the schedule in five consecutive losses to opponents with a combined record currently of 32-2. Their last four — Westfield, John Milledge, Valwood and now Heritage School — have all entered with an undefeated record. Prior to that, the team lost games to 5-1 lineups in Memorial Day and Deerfield Windsor.

It’ been a bit of a transition period so far for Mount de Sales after losing all but two starters on defense. But despite allowing just over 37 points over the last five games, the Cavaliers haven’t lost any of their five games by more than three touchdowns and had at least two scores in each one.

Two weeks ago, longtime head coach Robert Slocum’s lineup came four points from upending Valwood, Heritage’s former region rival in 2-AA in a 17-14 loss, its closest yet.

The Cavaliers return senior quarterback Ryan McCallie (6-0, 180) among seven starters back on offense from last year’s 7-4 team, including most of its linemen. On defense, the team’s two returners include massive 6-4, 255-pound senior tackle Jeremiah Cotton in a 40-scheme in what amounts to a 4-4 look up front.

“It’s a little different than what we’ve seen,” Prisant said. “They play it well.”

Coming off a 48-21 victory over Southland that was as much a statement for Heritage’s potential against their first Class AAA opponent as a first-time Class AAA school, the Hawks had enough adrenaline flowing to possibly walk into Macon overlooking Mount de Sales.

“We’re trying to get them to understand that,” Prisant said. “If not, than it’s not because we haven’t told them. I think the kids have an idea of what they’re all about. I liked having the bye week there just for that reason. I’d always rather be playing, but for us, I think it came at just the right time. We might have been too upbeat heading into this game had we played last week.”

Heritage racked up 563 yards of total offense, 456 on the ground at Southland in Americus while handing the 5-1 Raiders their first loss of the season. In that respect, traveling to Macon this week may not be as big a hurdle as the Hawks complete a three-game road swing.

The turning point against Southland for Heritage came in a 7-point game with 2:26 left in the opening half with the Raiders recovering an onside kick. But the defense held, allowing the Hawks to respond for a 38-yard touchdown pass from Brad Macke to Candler Rich for a more comfortable 35-21 lead at the break to go with the ball to open the second half.

“In past years, I could probably see where that might have been a point where the guys went, ‘Here we go again,’” said Prisant of losing the onside kick. “But after we stopped them and then turned around and scored, I said, ‘I think we’re OK.’”

The Hawks equally have matured quickly in five weeks while faced with an uphill road after losing five players to injury, including senior quarterback Joe Bonner, in preseason camp. Backup Brad Macke, who went 22 of 33 passing for six touchdowns and just one interception, returns to his previous role after leaving Heritage’s program in fantastic shape.

Bonner will get the start behind center this week in his third game since returning from a shoulder injury, but Prisant will make sure Macke won’t be holding a clipboard either.

“We’re going to find places where he can help us. He gives us another strong face at receiver on offense,” the Hawks coach said of his sophomore backup quarterback. “But if Joe feels like he’s tired and needs a series off, I don’t have any fear about Brad taking things over.”

Starting offensive guard Tyler Nix, who had 74 yards rushing on 16 carries, will remain in the backfield, as much a sign of confidence in freshman lineman Trevor Henson’s progress up front, allowing Nix, a standout pitcher in the spring for Heritage, to showcase his speed and power.

“We had five backs last week in our rotation,” Prisant said of Nix, Rich, David Bready, Patrick McKee and Macke. “With Joe starting we’re able to do some different things with our option [game].”

Heritage’s defense has equally shown its improvement through five games and has accounted for 13 turnovers including five interceptions by Rich, the Hawks’ leading rusher (540 yards) and scorer (13 touchdowns). Outside of giving up the occasional big play, Heritage’s biggest gain has been getting the ball back into its offense’s hands more quickly.

“We’re priding ourselves on other teams not trying to drive the ball on us,” Prisant said. “Big plays are going to happen. But we’ve played solid defensively so far.”

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