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Greg Jones

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Patriots facing a tall task

Jimtown’s program is one of state’s best

Heritage coach Dean Lehrman knows what will be lined up against his football team tonight. But when he discussed the Patriots’ Class 3A sectional championship opponent, No. 1 Jimtown, to his team this week he kept it basic.

“The version we gave our kids was (the Jimmies) are just another faceless opponent and another team we need to approach with the same preparation and concentration and go out with workmanlike efforts and do our jobs,” Lehrman said. “Among the coaches and the people in the know, they are a program with a great tradition, and they haven’t been ranked No. 1 all year for nothing.”

That doesn’t mean the veteran coach is downplaying the Jimmies (11-0). He didn’t want his team to get overwhelmed by Jimtown’s reputation or the hype surrounding the game. The program is renowned as one of the most consistently successful small/medium programs around these parts. The Jimmies have 20 sectional, 12 regional, six semistate and four state titles.

And Lehrman knows exactly what this year’s Jimmies’ team has – speed.

“With the exception of a few individuals here and there, this maybe the first time we have gone up against a team that will match our speed and quickness,” he said. “It’s going to be a very fast game.”

But his No. 9 Patriots (9-2) are no slouches, either. Heritage has won five straight and is averaging 45 points in that stretch.

“I believe very firmly in our kids, and we belong on the field with them,” Lehrman said. “We are going to give them a great game, and we are going to come out on top.”

Heritage’s balanced offense has caught fire during the 5-0 streak, led by running backs Brenton Lockett (1,013 rushing yards), Wil Knapke (782 rushing yards, 682 receiving yards) and quarterback Conner Sheehan (1,884 passing yards).

“Coming into the season we knew we would be very difficult to defend,” Lehrman said. “For other teams to scheme and try to shut down one or two players on our team, that’s not going to get it done. We try to keep up the pace and keep the pressure on, that’s been our goal, and for the most part we have been able to do that.”

And it’s no secret what lit the spark for Heritage.

The motivating factor was disappointment because, by the time the Patriots walked off the field after a controversial 13-10 overtime loss to Leo on Sept. 21, the discontent was being replaced by a realization that the Patriots didn’t want to feel that way again. And they haven’t, including a big win over Garrett that helped force a three-way ACAC championship with the Lions and Railroaders, heading into tonight’s big sectional final matchup with the Jimmies.

“To have the game go down the way it went down was like having your heart ripped right out of your chest,” Lehrman said of the Leo loss. “Our kids were very determined to show the world that wasn’t right. That (ACAC tri-champions) was just one goal, and now we are onto bigger and better things.”

The Patriots, though, will have to do it against Jimtown without defensive back/special teams standout Cole Gerardot, who broke his collar bone in a sectional opener win over Lakeland. Lehrman said Gerardot would possibly be available for a semistate or state finals game, if the Patriots were to advance that far.

Greg Jones is the high school sports editor for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in the Fort Wayne area since 1998. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8224; or fax 461-8648.