CONYERS - It's been a difficult start to the season for the Heritage football team. After scoring three points in the season opener against Salem, losing on a last-minute touchdown to Habersham Central and falling 7-0 to Winder-Barrow last week, the Patriots (1-3) are firmly entrenched in win-every-week mode.
Heritage is also in the midst of the most challenging part of its schedule, starting this week with a visit from Clarke Central, last season's Region 8-AAAA runner-up, and continuing on Oct. 2 with a trip to defending region champion Loganville.
Despite the struggles and the demanding region slate, coach Chad Frazier still believes his team is of playoff caliber.
"Yes, we are definitely still alive in the playoff chase," Frazier said. "This region beats itself up each week so there is still a chance if we'll go out and execute like we are capable."
The offense, which has scored a meager 29 points in four games, has to improve if Frazier's group has any shot of making games in October and November meaningful. In the loss to Winder-Barrow, the Patriots managed just 151 total yards and their two best scoring chances ended in a missed field goal and an interception in the end zone.
"Offensively, our struggles have been little things like a missed assignment here and there," said Frazier, in his third season as head coach. "We continue to work the fundamentals and the little things to help us get better."
The defense has been a different story, allowing 51 points in four games and just 17 in the past two weeks. The front line, believed to be the strength of the defensive unit coming into the 2009 season, has lived up to the hype.
Winder-Barrow managed just 55 rushing yards on 22 carries (2.5 yards per carry) against the line anchored by ends Rufus Jenkins and Boyce Cornwell. The linebackers, led by Calvin Vann, have also played well, even though two starters-Chase Alford and Dominique Gillis-are freshmen.
"The defensive line play has been great," Frazier said. "Our linebacker play has been very solid as well. Calvin Vann is the leader on that unit and has been complimented by Travis Martin who has been outstanding. (And Alford and Gillis) are smart and tough. They've stepped up to shore up our linebacking corp."
Clarke Central had been consistent on offense, scoring 20, 21 and 23 points in three victories, before falling to Apalachee, 21-7 last week. Similar to the Heritage defense, the Gladiators have surrendered 50 points in four games and also have history on their side: Clarke Central leads the all-time series 9-3, including a win in last year's five-overtime thriller.
"Against the Clarke defense we must be sound and make great decisions," Frazier said. "We don't have to do anything special, we just can't beat ourselves with mental mistakes. (And) last year was last year, this is a much different team. I don't feel like the past will be a factor."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Who: Clarke Central Gladiators (3-1) at Heritage Patriots (1-3)
· Where: Heritage High School
· When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
· Last week: Heritage lost to Winder-Barrow, 7-0; Clarke Central lost to Apalachee, 21-7
· Series: Clarke Central leads 9-3
· Last season: Clarke Central won 31-23 in five overtime periods