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PREP FOOTBALL: Alcovy struggles with Heritage's front seven
M.J. Stroud
M.J. Stroud scrambling from a strong Heritage Patriots front-seven group and looking for a man downfield. Photo by Anthony Banks.

CONYERS, Ga. — After being held to a quick three-and-out on its first offensive drive, the Alcovy punt was muffed on the snap, being recovered by the Patriots and giving Heritage the ball on their on the 15-yard line.

Heritage capitalized on the turnover, moving within the 5-yard line and scoring on a 5-yard rush by Courtney McBride Jr. to give the Patriots an early 6-0 lead after the missed extra point.

Late in the second quarter, multiple Alcovy linemen got into the backfield to stop the Heritage ball carrier and force the fourth down. Alcovy received the punt deep in their own territory with a chance to take the lead late in the half.

“[Our defense] had a lot of pressure, we were good tacklers throughout the game,” head coach Jason Dukes said. “We did a good job of turning the ball when we had the opportunity.”

On a third and long by the Tigers’ offense, senior quarterback M.J. Stroud was stripped of the ball, and it was recovered by Heritage, giving the Patriots offense the ball in the red zone.

Three run plays to bring the offense within the 10-yard line led to a 9-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Henry Hodge III, extending the Heritage lead 13-0 with just over a minute left in the first half.

The first half ended with both offenses trading turnovers. The Patriots’ pass rush forced Stroud into a pass that was intercepted and returned deep into Alcovy territory. Then the Tigers’ defense answered, with senior Jaquez Snell intercepting Thomas in the end zone to prevent the late touchdown.

Going into halftime, the Alcovy offense was struggling both in the air and on the ground, only managing 69 total yards of offense through the first two quarters.

The third quarter was a quiet one from both teams, as both offenses struggled to move the ball as the defenses shined to open the second half of the game. 

The Patriots defense held the Tigers offense to minus 7 yards in the third quarter, as the Heritage front seven got to Stroud for multiple sacks in the before the final quarter could start.

“One of the issues we had is that they loaded the box and made it very difficult for us to run the football,” Dukes said. “We got behind the sticks and had a lot of third-and-longs; they did a good job of getting home.”

Alcovy started with the ball to open the final quarter of the game. Stroud connected on a 14-yard pass to open the drive, the longest play for the Tigers’ offense at the time.

After Stroud was taken down on another sack by the Patriots defense, Heritage sent the pressure again on the next play, forcing Stroud out of the pocket and throwing a pass that was intercepted by Juleion Simmons and returned 60-yards for the pick-six and extending the lead to 19-0.

After the turnover, the Tigers’ offense continued to struggle, with the only bright spot coming from senior Andrea Robinson, who gained 56 yards on 12 carries for Alcovy in the game.

“[Andrea] is a very dynamic player, we just have to do a better job of opening holes for him, he can turn something that should be a 3-yard loss into picking up key first downs,” Dukes said.

On the Tigers’ final drive of the game, Stroud missed the receiver on the crossing route, being intercepted by Myran Henderson, marking Stroud’s fourth turnover of the game.

The Patriots’ offense took the knee after the interception, running the remainder of the clock out and securing the 19-0 shutout over Alcovy.

Despite the shortcomings on the scoreboard, Dukes looks to keep the team focused on the remainder of the season.

“One game does not define who you are as football team,” Dukes said. “Right now, we have two regular-season games left, and we still have a shot at one of our main goals, and that is to be a playoff team.”

Dukes and the rest of the Alcovy football team plan to rebound next week as they take on the top-seeded Evans Knights on Friday, Nov. 1.