Saints’ turnovers too much to get past in title loss

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

CLINTON &045; It was a match billed as two of the top teams in MPSA Class A in recent years.

And no doubt, two heavyweights went at it the best they could.

Trinity Episcopal and Heidelberg Academy &045; winners of the last three state championships &045; put up a fight worth the billing in the championship game Thursday at Mississippi College. Even with some turnover and miscues, the Saints had a shot at the end to take the victory.

Email newsletter signup

But in a game of this magnitude, five turnovers is often difficult to overcome. The Saints had three interceptions, two fumbles and two blocked punts, and Heidelberg played nearly error-free ball to take a 19-14 win for its second straight title and third in four years.

&uot;They’ve got a great ball club,&uot; Trinity head coach David King said. &uot;They’re the defending state champions. They haven’t lost to a single-A ball team but once in the last three years. Seven turnovers are too many in a regular season game, and in a state championship game you’re lucky to stay around with that many turnovers. They’re a great football team and were better than us tonight.&uot;

The loss was tough for the Saints to swallow, especially considering the fact that things went about as wrong as they’ve gone all year at the most wrong time of the year. The defense was able to overcome most of the mistakes, but the turnovers kept the offense from getting a big score early in the game.

A late score from Ryan Rachal to Dudley Guice trimmed the lead to four with a minute left, but the sky kick effort on the kickoff was recovered by Heidelberg’s Wesley Parker, and the Saints were out of timeouts.

The Rebels kneeled it twice before the horn sounded.

&uot;These guys have been very special to me,&uot; said HA head coach Tom Lewis, who completed his 16th season at the helm Thursday. &uot;They’ve been involved in three state championships. I’ve been coaching most of those guys since they came through junior high. They put everything into it. It’s great to put everything in and get what you deserve, and they got what they deserved today.&uot;

The Saints’ list of bad things that happened to them could have made for worse results, but the biggest came when they were deep in Heidelberg territory at the start of the fourth quarter with the Rebels holding a 13-7 lead.

The Saints got down to the 27 and got a pass interference call to get to the 14. But then the next three plays went for a loss of yardage when the Rebels started to put pressure on Rachal, and on fourth down he had a pass picked off by Dusty Bass at the TE 5.

&uot;Our turnovers helped them,&uot; King said. &uot;We had way too many interceptions and fumbles. I just think the pressure got to some players. I don’t know. I’m at a loss for words. We turned the ball over so much. I thought we had a great week of practice and were ready to go, but that’s high school athletics.&uot;

The drive that followed from Heidelberg hurt the most. While the Rebels found success with the passing game for their first two scores, they kept it on the ground on this drive and just pounded away.

Starting from their own 5, the Rebels drove the length of the field, got 28- and 38-yard runs from Brent Welch to get to the Trinity 30 and used a 13-yard run from Chris Kittrell to get inside the TE 5.

Kittrell ran it in from 3 yards out three plays later for a 19-7 lead with 3:05 left in the third.

&uot;We had a better team than they did,&uot; lineman Matthew Andrews said. &uot;They had a lot of great individual players, but we played our hearts out. And it feels great.&uot;

&uot;We ran Welch, and he did an outstanding job,&uot; Lewis said. &uot;We had some breaks. It was a team effort, and they came to win. We didn’t make any mistakes &045; we had a few but not many penalties &045; and they did.

In a game like this you can’t make mistakes. Our offensive line took over. That last drive, that was the game-winner.&uot;

The Saints scored first in the ball game when Rachal hit Guice on a 44-yard pass in the first quarter, but the offense struggled at times after that and couldn’t get anything going. The Rebels answered quickly when Brooks Lewis hit Andrews on a 42-yard TD pass, and the Saints’ possessions after that went blocked punt, interceptions, fumble, punt and interception to end the half.

The front put pressure on Rachal and contained the ground game, and the Rebels used a double coverage on Guice to contain the big play.

&uot;We doubled him all game, and he got away from us twice,&uot; Lewis said. &uot;He’s that kind of player. He’s a great player. It’s what we expected. They’ve got a great football team. We’re happy to be here, and we were happy with the effort they gave.&uot;