High School Football
Heritage works on focus toward tonight's big game
by Chris Goltermann
Kevin Prisant saw how much his athletes wanted to win games for Tyler Henson on the first Friday night of the year immediately in The Heritage School's 2013 season opener - even it in a losing effort at Flint River.
'Everybody was so emotional. They were telling Tyler's family they were sorry. It wasn't like they were letting anybody down. It's difficult for everybody,' Prisant said. 'I didn't realize the burden I was carrying myself throughout the year and I was getting frustrated.'
But the Hawks' head football coach also understood how much the team had to let some of the burden of trying not to let their fallen teammate down rather than focusing solely on what their roles were toward helping this year's team.
It's as much a reason why Heritage (3-6, 1-3 in GISA Region 2-AAA) has tried its best to curb some of those emotions heading into Senior Night at home against rival Trinity Christian (5-4, 1-3) with a state-playoff berth equally on the line for tonight's winner.
The winner advances as the No. 4 seed from 2-AAA while the loser has its season come to an end. It's a sharp contrast from last year's playoff ramifications where the teams were battling for a region championship, won by the Hawks 29-14 in Sharpsburg to take a 2-0 series lead in the budding rivalry.
'We take the road of playing it down. Now we've been fortunate enough to win the first two games and usually the team that tends to take it the hardest is the one that doesn't win,' Prisant said. 'But I think the rivalry has been competitive. It's easier for some folks outside the program to get it excited about it. For both us and Trinity, it's a playoff game. We've been in that mode since last week. It's not just about a rivalry. We're fighting to stay alive. The goal for each program and I know [Trinity head coach] Chris [Hanson] feels the same way is to be a playoff team every year. With both of us trying to build programs, we can't take it a season at a time.'
On Thursday, though, Henson's memory was again at the forefront of the program as the school dedicated a memorial for the late Hawks standout athlete who died as the result of an automobile accident last spring.
A bronze plaque honoring the All-State end in both words and his likeness stood adjacent to a marble column with a helmet and a football.
One one side of the column were the words 'Mind, Body, Spirit, Camraderie' and on another the words from Isaiah 40:31 ending with the lines, 'They run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.'
'You have to find a way to best related it to the kids. Today was a good closure to it. Tomorrow it will be emotional because it'll be senior night. But hopefully we're ready to play instead of trying not to let Tyler down.'
Heritage has started as many as 16 freshmen and sophomores during the majority of the year after losing the bulk of last year's contributors from an 11-2 season that had the program playing for a Class AAA state championship in December 2012.
'This year by our terms we've been successful if we look at the youth that we've got and where they are now, they're all getting an A-plus,' Prisant said. 'When we go out there, we expect to play hard. We've grown up a little bit. When something bad hap
-pened at the beginning of the year, we'd completely shut down and fall apart. Now we've learned to take the good with the bad.'
The team has bounced back from a three-game stretch where it was outscored 138-15 against three Class AAA teams headed to next week's playoffs, to both pull out a 25-20 win over Westminster and put a challenge into Tattnall Square before falling 38-14. The latter game saw the Hawks give up touchdowns at the close of each of the first two periods after staying within seven points of the 7-2 Trojans.
Prisant expects the same challenge tonight against what he called a 'veteran' Trinity team.
'It's part of the game when you make a mistake, the youth comes out,' Prisant said. 'We've got be able to not give up the big play and contain and battle up front. They're not going to do anything crazy, but the quarterback [Daniel Shoates] is so dangerous. When things break down and he takes off.'
A victory tonight, meanwhile, is not so much about the want, but the will in making plays on the field for his Hawks players.
'It's not about who wants to go get [a win]. I know we want it and I know Trinity wants it,' Prisant. 'It's about who wants to go out there and get it. If there's a ball in the air and it drops when it could be an interception, there's an opportunity right there. It's going to come down to who wants to get it the most.'