Pats eye first road test at Habersham

CONYERS - For the Heritage football team this week, it's out like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Last week, the Patriots opened the season with a 21-7 victory over county rival Salem, one of the most dominant teams in Region 8-AAAA over the past four seasons with three region championships.

So what's next for Heritage?

How about a long bus ride to Mount Airy to face one of the other dominant teams in Region 8-AAAA, that's right Habersham Central. The Raiders laid claim to an outright region title in 2006 and shared the region crown with Salem last season.

"They claim back-to-back region championships, they've been at the top of Region 8 and gone deep into the playoffs the last couple of years," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. "We preach competition every day, so what better way to follow up winning against Salem, another team that's been dominant in the region, than trying to knock off Habersham in consecutive weeks.

"There are no problems really going on the road, just some adjustments to your schedule. We've tried to cover all the 'what ifs' for being on the road. Traveling that far means making sure we're prepared early."

Last year, the two squads squared off in the Region 8-AAAA playoffs on the final week of the regular season. The Raiders rolled to a 28-0 victory over the Patriots. Habersham Central has posted shutouts in its last two meetings with Heritage, winning by a combined score of 31-0.

However, the two squads started this season going in different directions.

Heritage junior quarterback Garry Peters rushed for 100 yards and had a hand in all three touchdowns in the Patriots' win over Salem, breaking a five-year losing streak against one of their county rivals.

Habersham Central is coming off a 23-14 loss at Cedar Shoals in what many observers felt was the marquee matchup in Region 8-AAAA's last week.

"They are a very talented group, not quite as big and athletic as last year's team, but still pretty good," Frazier said. "Offensively, they are still in their version of the spread. The quarterback is not extremely mobile, but is an accurate passer with a good strong arm. They spread the ball around the field well.

"Defensively, they have shown a number of things, 3-4, 4-3 and some 4-4 fronts. They are big on the front line in the middle and very aggressive at linebacker. Their secondary is a little down from last year."

Even with Heritage coming off a victory, Frazier knows his team still has plenty of room for improvement.

"We definitely have to cut down the penalties, last week we had eight penalties for 65 yards," he said. "Also, we'll need to put pressure on their quarterback. If he has time to throw, he is very good at getting it to his receivers."

Last week, Heritage's defensive line was dominant against Salem, controlling the line of scrimmage and holding the Seminoles to less than 100 yards of total offense.

Once again this week, Frazier is looking for his troops in the trenches to help tip the balance in favor of Heritage.

"For us defensively, yes, the game will be won in the trenches. The success of our defense relies on our front to eat up blocks, so our linebackers can run. Last week, our D-line did a tremendous job with that," Frazier said. "Our offensive line play will also dictate the success we'll have moving the ball. Our guys are not the biggest, but they are smart, quick and will compete on every snap until the whistle, which will give us an advantage over most team's defensive lines."

Notes: Heritage's Peters has been invited to attend Saturday's Miami-Florida clash in Gainesville by the Gators.

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie


SideBar: Heritage At Habersham

· Matchup: Heritage at Habersham Central

· When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

· Where: Raider Stadium, Mount Airy

· Series: Habersham Central leads 8-3, won the last two meetings

· Last year: Habersham Central won 28-0 in Mount Airy