MONROEVILLE – After being shut out and “handled” by Norwell in Week 2, the Heritage Patriots knew something needed to change, starting a week later against Woodlan in their first ACAC matchup of the year.
“There's no shame in losing, but there's shame in getting handled. If you're going to get beat, at the very least go down with a fight, and we kind of feel like we didn't do that against Norwell,” coach Casey Kolkman said, referring to the 49-0 loss in the last week of August.
So the Patriots (1-2) borrowed a page from Norwell's book – starting with the running game.
“Do what Norwell did to us – I think they threw it five times in their game,” Kolkman said. “That was the game plan and that's what we told the boys, win or lose, we're going to run the ball, and we're going to give it to Eric.”
But even after the coaching staff told senior running back Eric Rogers that they would be going to him a lot, no one could have fully anticipated his eye-popping performance last Friday: 39 carries for 318 yards (an average of 8.2 yards a carry) for five touchdowns. He reached the end zone in the first, second and third quarters and then added two more in the fourth, and also scored twice on two-point conversion attempts. Rogers also caught five passes for 46 yards, so he was either the ball carrier or the receiver for 44 of Heritage's 66 total plays (67%).
The Patriots beat Woodlan 37-13 to start 1-0 in league play. Additionally, sophomore quarterback Kobe Meyer completed 11 of his 14 pass attempts for 83 yards and rushed for 91 yards.
“In my career as a coach, I don't think I've given the ball to any kid more than 25 times, but it was one of those things where we felt it was needed,” Kolkman said.
Rogers said he could feel that he was having a special day by the time his team went into the locker room up 16-0.
“During the game I was just (thinking), more yards, more yards. Next yard, touchdown. Don't go down,” Rogers recalled. “It's just a crazy number and a great feeling.”
And as Rogers cut up the Woodlan defense on play after play, Kolkman said there was not reason to try anything different.
“Eric's not a blazer, he's not a kid who's going to hit a gap and run away from people, but he's a patient runner and he's also very shifty, he's very quick,” Kolkman said. “He was just following his blocks as they set them up and then sneaking in. In football, if it's not broke don't fix it.”
Offensive guard Jackson Bearman said it felt good to be a part of such a win.
“In the Norwell game, we got beat around and we didn't like that. So going into Woodlan week, we decided we wanted to be tough-nosed and we were going to practice hard all week. We were going to hit hard and go fast,” the junior said. “We completed a lot of our assignments that we weren't completing before. We were focusing a lot more and knew our assignments before the snap. We were getting after it. Coach told us all week to just get after it, and I feel like we did that a lot better on Friday night than we had been.”
The Patriots now face a remarkably challenging back-to-back: They play host to No. 2 South Adams, the defending Class A state runner-up, tonight, followed by Adams Central in Week 5.
“I think we know that we can do it,” Bearman said of what his team will be able to carry with them from the win over Woodlan. “We know that we can be fast and play with bigger teams. We know we can do it, and I think moving on that will help a lot.”
(All games 7 p.m. unless indicated)
Adams Central at Jay County
Angola at West Noble
Bellmont at Norwell
Bluffton at Woodlan
Carroll (Flora) at Southern Wells, 7:30 p.m.
Columbia City at Huntington North
Concord at Wawasee
East Noble at DeKalb
Eastside at Churubusco
Fairfield at Fremont
Concordia at Bishop Luers
North Side at Wayne
Northrop at Carroll
Garrett at Lakeland
Heritage at South Adams
Homestead at Bishop Dwenger
New Haven at Leo
Prairie Heights at Central Noble
Warsaw at Mishawaka
Whitko at Maconaquah