With an impressive 7-2 victory over Luella on Teacher Appreciation Night, the Heritage Patriots clinched the No. 2 seed in the region when Salem beat Flowery Branch on the same night. The Rockdale News talked with Brandon Stewart after the game to gauge his impression of his team so far and ask him how far he thinks they can go.
The Rockdale News: Coach, I just wanted to talk to you about the overall season so far. You guys just clinched No. 2 basically with that Salem win (over Flowery Branch). So talk a little about what goes into that before the season and how you guys have played so far.
Brandon Stewart: First of all we have yet to play a fantastic full game. Out of the course of the season we've played about maybe three or four halves that were really fantastic. So we've left a lot out there. Our losses, we had a bad loss against Flowery, but everybody else are good quality top-five teams - McIntosh, Central, North Gwinnett, North Oconee. All of them are top-five. Those are all teaching opportunities to go where we got to go. Plus, we don't want to be playing our best soccer in March. We want to be playing our best soccer at the end of April and May. After Spring Break we're trying to take those steps to be able to make training more intense, and be able to get something out of every single one of our games to be able to prepare for the playoff run. That's what matters. They took a good step tonight being able to rest some of our starters, but also the whole bench played. We pulled up five JV guys, all those guys got in tonight so that grows the program and we did a great job. I hate that we gave up two goals, that's not OK, but I'm proud of our effort all the way around. It was good.
RN: Coach I heard you talking to your team basically about how you guys have taken another step. So, how close are you to being that team that you're talking about?
Stewart: I think we're still at about 65 percent. We got a long way to go. In spurts we can put together really impressive runs for 15/20/30 minutes even. The Lanier half we played 40 minutes of unstoppable soccer, but being able to put that together for 80 minutes with the 10 or 13 guys that we have depending on our formation have got to be able to plug in and play those (minutes) because as the playoffs come the intensity rises and it takes a lot more out of you mentally. So, that's what we'll do. Physically we can go for 80 minutes, but to be able to move mentally and psychologically every single week in training and every game, we've got to be able to move past that 65 into that 80 to 90 percent range. Mentally and psychologically, that's the most important part.
RN: Last question coach. I know last year we talked about that state championship and you being so close before and even last year. So, right now do you think that you guys have the potential to be a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs - and maybe a state championship.
Stewart: The potential is absolutely there. Gotta be able to put together 80 minutes, that's the key. Limiting mistakes in the back and offensively I think we can play with anybody in the state - 5-A, 6-A, whatever. But we've had a bad habit of leaking goals at bad times and just simple mistakes. Not the other team creating, just our own mistakes. So by limiting those mistakes and those things we'll talk about as these next few weeks roll around is being able to lock that stuff down in the final third and in the back. And we did that with our first team tonight. We were doing good, we got some subs in there today and they kind of dropped off, which is to be expected. We're getting there, but we're not there yet. But the potential is absolutely there.