Heritage’s 2018 meeting at home against Eagle's Landing Christian Academy did not go according to plan.
In what was supposed to be a much-needed test against one of the state’s premiere high school football programs regardless of classification, the Patriots never stood a chance en route to a 56-0 loss, their largest in program history.
Knowing the quality product the Chargers produce on a year-to-year basis, Heritage head coach Corey Johnson didn’t hold back from giving the Class A private school a lot of praise.
“This trip down to ELCA, we’re probably playing the best team that we will play in a 15-game schedule,” Johnson said. “We won’t face anyone, top-to-bottom, as good as ELCA. If we’re able to go down and handle our business against these guys then we’re going to definitely be able to take that on into the playoffs.”
The Chargers have not come close to losing a game since their Week 3 defeat of the Patriots last season. After defeating Athens Academy in the Class A-private state championship game, 44-17, the Chargers have continued their success on into 2019.
They will enter play Friday night winners of two in a row to begin the season and have outscored Morrow and Pace Academy by a combined score of 104-13.
The Patriots will enter with a 1-0 record after taking their first of two BYE weeks. In order to best prepare for the Chargers, rest and recovery was atop Johnson’s list.
“We didn’t bang a lot,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe in a whole lot of banging. By the time that you get out of camp, it’s pretty much time to be mental. I’m one of those guys that believes a lot in the mental side more than a lot of guys want to give it credit. I think it’s a sport of mind.”
From an execution standpoint, Johnson felt his team didn’t do enough to hang with ELCA last season. In order to compete with them in 2019, execution will be at the forefront on both sides of the ball.
“They’re going to be fundamentally sound and well-coached,” Johnson said of ELCA. “The thing that we take going into this game is, we have to do the same thing. We have to understand and know that if we execute on both sides of the ball as well as special teams, we will give ourselves a great opportunity to play in this game.”
The Patriots’ defense, who pitched a shutout against Salem in Week 1, will be tasked with slowing down senior running back Keaton Mitchell and senior wide receiver Justin Robinson. Mitchell, a 3-star recruit, has rushed for 287 yards thus far while Robinson, a Georgia commit, has caught 11 passes for 122 yards.
“They have one of the best receivers in the state of Georgia,” Johnson said. “We’re going to try and contain (Robinson), as well as (Mitchell), who is one of the best running backs in the state, too. They have some good pieces.”
As for the Patriots, a quarterback battle between Derrick Thomas and Miles Young has yet to fully work itself out after just one game. Thomas, who finished with three passing TDs against Salem, has the edge, however.
“I think Derrick has the edge just based off of the performance from last week,” Johnson said. “But Miles had a great practice (Monday). We’re still evaluating. What we can take away from that Salem game was that we had two solid quarterbacks. We’re not going to be afraid to play both of them.”
Johnson’s offense as a whole is a unit he thinks will only improve as the season goes on.
“I think we will continue to get better. From those quarters that we saw, we felt like the offensive line was one of the points of emphasis that needs to get better. We saw some good things from those guys, so that’s always a plus.”
Losing 56-0 wasn’t a goal Johnson and his Patriots set out for last season. After previously never facing the Chargers before, Johnson does feel more prepared heading into their second all-time meeting and is hoping to see more competition out of his guys.
“I think we will definitely be more prepared for them because we’ve seen them before,” Johnson said. “It was brand new to us last year and they presented some things to us that caused us some issues. Once we recognized exactly what they had going on, we were able to slow down ourselves.”
Although we didn’t have a ton of success, we saw some things that we were able to do well. Those are some of the things that we’re looking to build off of. Competing is the name of the game. To go out there and compete and make plays against these guys brings nothing but confidence as a group.”