The Heritage football team is more than a little eager to put last season behind it.
The Mountaineers failed to win a game in 2018 and averaged losses by almost 39 points. The importance of setting a different tone in week one is palpable to quarterback Zach Hollman
“To get that win right off the bat, it would give this season meaning,” Hollman said. “We’re going to make a winning culture.”
Heritage will host Lenoir City at 7:30 p.m. Friday in its season opener. Both teams are small, with roughly the same number of players on their rosters. It’s a winnable game for the Mountaineers, and they want it badly.
“Depth-wise, they’re about the same as us, so this first game is an equal deal,” Heritage coach Tim Hammontree said. “Those guys that are playing for us are surely looking for that first win — there’s no doubt about that.”
Heritage and Lenoir City haven’t faced each other in five years, with the Mountaineers winning their last matchup, 48-8.
Hammontree said having an unfamiliar opponent is beneficial for a team in need of a fresh start.
“They’re looking to give their best performance, and they’re going to let the score take care of itself,” Hammontree said of the Mountaineers. “Our effort is key. We feel like we match up really well with Lenoir City.”
Lenoir City is coming off a 5-6 season, which came to an end with a 46-15 loss to Fulton in the first round of the 5A playoffs. The Panthers graduated 18 seniors. They will count on the production of quarterback Mason Stanley, who is replacing Gabe Williams as the starter.
Hollman will rely on an offensive line anchored by center Ryan Ellis. Wide receiver Dusty Foxx is a returning starter and a key offensive weapon while Triston Hurst fills about every other position, including tailback, slot receiver, punter and backup quarterback.
“Just like all high school teams, everybody is struggling for linemen,” Hammontree said. “They have a group that’s technique oriented. They do what you ask them to do. Their quarterback is an above-average high school quarterback for the size of school like Lenoir City.
“Their quarterback and offensive line are pretty much in sync. They have average speed in all positions. They’re almost a replica of who we are.”
Heritage got a confidence boost at the Maryville Ortho Tennessee Blount County Jamboree when it scored first against defending 3A state champion Alcoa. Hurst found the end zone on a 3-yard run before Alcoa bounced back for a 14-7 win.
“We hope, early in the ball game, we manifest those two or three-play drives and score, similar to what we did in the jamboree,” Hammontree said. “We feel like, if we can get up early on, we’ll have a really good chance to compete at the end.
If Heritage does kick off its season 1-0, Hammontree said Monday’s practice will inevitably be a celebratory one.
“We may have trouble on Monday trying to get them ready for the next ball game,” he said.