Allatoona played Dalton in the state championship on Friday, but they wouldn't have been there had Heritage been able to muster enough strength to take a commanding lead in the final 20 minutes. It didn't pan out that way and for the second straight year the Patriots march ended in the elite eight.
"I'm proud of them. I'm sick to my stomach that we're out. Last year I felt that we kind of reached our ceiling. I knew that we were a year away, but this year I felt like we really had a chance to do it," Brandon Stewart, Heritage head coach, said.
The Patriots dealt with a few losses early in the year, but they worked hard in training and started playing their best soccer in April and May, which is what Stewart has wanted all along. Stewart and his staff have worked to build a sense of camaraderie among a group of teenagers trying to reach a common goal.
"The thing that keeps hitting me over and over is our program deals with a lot of challenges that others don't. That other people don't know about and it hit us full in the face Saturday night. I have guys who help their families and work hard and help put food on the table. Some of those guys were tired on Saturday. That was a little bit of a difference in a quarterfinal game and I'm proud of us," Stewart said. "I'm proud that we deal with those factors and those things bring us together because our guys know each other and they know what each situation and stuff like that are. That's what makes our guys pull for each other and work hard for each other. There's no excuses. Some people pull their weight and somebody else's in different games. That's been the biggest part of our success over these last few years. It's that harmony and that family atmosphere that I think that our guys have."
Stewart says Heritage would've given Riverwood a run in the final four and he believes his team had the best chance to beat Dalton in the state championship.
"I still feel like we were the best chance to - us or Greenbriar - probably the best chance to surprise Dalton," Stewart said. "I don't know if we could've beat Dalton, but I sure would've liked to have a shot at it."
"They (Dalton) may have beat us, but I think that we could've given them, tactically with our squad on a big field down at Mercer, I think we would have given them a heck of a contest on Friday, but it just ended a little too early this year. Our guys left it all out there. I couldn't have asked of anything more," Stewart said strongly.
Heritage will lose valuable seniors such as Patriot star Andre Deas, but Stewart hopes the loss this year will stick with the underclassmen and push them next year.
Stewart says that everyone will be a year better, including Heritage. He says they're not hanging their heads and that he's proud of his team and he's proud that his seniors can leave with grace knowing they left everything on the pitch.