Opportunities gone awry sway Pats’ trajectorySeptember 23, 2017
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
LINCOLN CITY — Opportunities presented themselves early and often for Heritage Hills.
Whether it was the plethora of bad snaps that went sailing over Gibson Southern quarterback Isaac Sellers’ head but stayed in the Titans’ possession all five times, or the pooch kick the Patriots appeared to have had secured but fumbled at the last second, Heritage Hills was one recovery away from potentially scripting a different ending to this story.
But in Friday’s 48-7 loss to Gibson Southern, those chances slipped away as the Patriots struggled to capitalize on uncharacteristic mistakes by Class 3A’s top-ranked team.
“We had a couple balls that were right there rolling on the ground in front of us that we just didn’t come up with,” Heritage Hills coach Todd Wilkerson said. “Until we start coming up with those plays, we’re going to continue to struggle. We had plenty of opportunities in the first half to stay close. If you take away the short kick and the late score they scored right before half, maybe you just go down 12-0 instead of 27-0.”
While several of the bad snaps led to the Titans falling out of field goal range, just recovering one of those loose balls may have sparked a different outcome for the Patriots (3-3, 2-2 Pocket Athletic Conference).
“I felt like to nearly have those plays go our way gave us momentum but then we lost it and gave it right back to them,” Patriot junior lineman Spencer Buse said. “We needed to be able to make stops and get them to fourth down.”
The Titans took the opening drive 71 yards in a little more than 21⁄2 minutes with senior running back Dylan Stefanich rushing for 20 yards on the drive, including the 4-yard touchdown to cap the opening series.
Gibson Southern forced Patriot quarterback Cade Jones into tough situations by intercepting him on their first drive of the game and picking him off twice more in the half.
“Personally, I felt like my three interceptions were a big momentum shifter for them, which kind of sucks for our team,” Jones said. “We started the second half off pretty decent, but other than that we just couldn’t get much going the rest of the game.”
The Patriots opened the second half by marching 70 yards downfield via a mix of passes and rushes. With senior wide receiver Caleb Keller — Jones’ top target on the season with 249 yards and four touchdowns — out with an ankle injury, the junior quarterback hooked up with Dylan Begle and Dakoda Ebert on the drive before finding Adam Redmond in the end zone for the lone Patriot touchdown.
However, any momentum Heritage Hills had gained faded on the next drive as it was more of the same for the Titans: a series ending with an Isaac Sellers passing touchdown. He finished with 258 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, and was able to connect early and often with senior Wes Obermeier. Obermeier, a 6-foot-7 wide receiver/tight end who’s committed to play at Ball State, often found wide-open running room across the middle of the field on his way to seven catches for 120 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown reception for the night’s final points.
“We just blew some coverages tonight and when you do that you give up big plays,” Wilkerson said. “It gets difficult when you’re trying to check in and out of different schemes and different looks that they give you. But we know we’ve been playing a lot of younger guys and it’s a learning process.”
The Patriots spent the week of practice preparing for Gibson Southern’s no-huddle offense, and even though Jones said it wasn’t the main factor in the loss, there’s still something about an uptempo offense such as the one the Titans run that can throw a defense off-kilter.
“That style can take a lot out of you,” Jones said. “But overall it still wasn’t too bad; I thought that not capitalizing on their mistakes definitely hurt us more.”
The Pats, who often play a multitude of players on both sides of the ball, switched that up against Gibson Southern (6-0, 4-0) knowing that the quick tempo of play may drain players’ energy quicker.
“By playing a lot of players just one way I felt that conditioning didn’t affect us a bunch,” Wilkerson said. “Just the constant pressure on your defense and making sure you’re getting all of your defensive calls in can be difficult against that type of offense.”
A short-term memory will be important for the Patriots as Class 2A No. 3 Southridge (5-1, 4-0) will be coming to town next Friday fresh off of a 49-point thumping of Tell City.
And while the Patriots may be in the midst of their first three-game losing streak since the 2013 season, as far as Jones is concerned, the past is the past.
“We have to put this rough patch in the back of our mind,” Jones said. “We have to prepare for a run at the postseason. That’s about all we can do at this point.”
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