Leesburg, Va. — The Heritage High School football team entered this season with high expectations in coach Joe Cockerham’s third season at the helm despite going 3-14 over his first two seasons.
After a 32-27 win at perennial powerhouse Tuscarora on September 17, the Pride started to turn some heads in the area, and they’re now winners of six straight games to start their 2021 campaign after a 36-14 victory over Loudoun Valley on October 1 in Leesburg.
It’s Heritage’s first six-game winning streak since 2015, a season that they started with six straight wins before falling in each of their final five games.
Despite not having two of their best athletes on both offense and defense available to play—junior DeShawn Allen and senior Omari Cornwall—other Pride players stepped up and played bigger roles than they normally do to fill the void. One of those players was senior athlete Kyle Alt.
“Kyle Alt is a guy that we know we can rely on on both sides of the ball,” Cockerham said. “We had some injuries this week at the wide receiver position, and he had to step up and be the guy, which he’s not always had to be, and he did an incredible job of it both offensively and defensively. He’s a leader in this program and has been for three years. He’s as reliable as it gets.”
Alt finished with 102 yards on 5 catches and two touchdown receptions on offense, an interception and a forced fumble on defense, and a key kick return in the first quarter that gave Heritage great field position leading to their first touchdown of the game.
“We definitely wanted to be more physical,” Alt said. “We were missing two receivers that were ahead of me on the depth chart, but we all were able to step up and fill those spots.”
For Alt—who as a sophomore endured a 1-9 season in his first varsity season— the success his team has experienced so far this year isn’t surprising to him due in large part to a talented senior class.
“Our freshman year [on the freshman team]we started 6-0, and we’ve known that our senior class has everything that we need to be successful,” Alt said. “Nobody transferred, everybody stayed here and kept working all the time with each other, and this is where we are now.”
The Pride defense had a game plan going in to try to keep Loudoun Valley junior athlete Carl Bertaut-Strange under control, but Bertaut-Strange had an unbelievable night, racking up 173 yards on 13 catches. According to Loudoun Valley head coach Dave Bishop, Bertaut-Strange’s 173 receiving yards set a new school record, and his 13 receptions tied a school record set by Larry Potts back in 1965. Despite Bertaut-Strange’s incredible numbers, Cockerham thought his defense as a whole executed well the entire evening.
“We knew they had a couple of kids that are really good athletes,” Cockerham said. “Bertaut-Strange is lightning in a bottle, so that’s why we wanted to make sure we scored this last touchdown to keep it away from his striking distance. Our defense played their butts off. Our defensive coordinator Travis Huff does a great job coaching them, and we have a great game plan every week.”
Offensively, the Pride had a balanced attack in terms of yards, racking up 152 yards passing and 145 yards rushing for the game. Senior quarterback Braden Smith went 9-for-14 through the air with all of those 152 passing yards and two passing touchdowns as well as a rushing touchdown. Smith and the Pride offense relied heavily on the ground game with senior running back Sean Robinson, who compiled 34 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns, even though Robinson didn’t play on the first Pride series of the game.
“My mindset is to go out there and help my team as much as possible,” Robinson said. “Just pound the rock, beat up the other team, and try to show who wants it more. I’m the person that’s going to bring that energy for the team, and I feel like that’s my part to play.”
Loudoun Valley (1-3, 2-4) will look to bounce back on October 8 when they host the Tuscarora Huskies (2-1, 5-1) in Purcellville. Heritage (4-0, 6-0) will also be on the road next week when they travel to Broad Run (3-0, 5-1) with first place in the Dulles District standings on the line.
The Pride have put themselves in a prime position to claim a spot in the VHSL Region 4C tournament for the first time since 2016, but Cockerham knows that the Spartans pose a huge challenge for his team.
“Our goals are all in front of us, and there’s a giant step in front of us this week,” Cockerham said. “We’re excited for the challenge of playing an incredible football team over there, and we’ll go out there and give it a great game plan and play our tails off.”
|1Q||4:38||Heritage||Braden Smith 2-yard TD run (Jackson Karam PAT)||7-0|
|2Q||3:13||Heritage||Sean Robinson 20-yard TD run (Braden Smith to Ty Smith 2pt pass)||15-0|
|3Q||5:56||Heritage||Sean Robinson 1-yard TD run (Jackson Karam PAT)||22-0|
|3Q||2:13||Loudoun Valley||Isaiah Stokes 16-yard TD run (Henry McCllelan PAT)||22-7|
|4Q||10:22||Heritage||Braden Smith to Kyle Alt 28-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||29-7|
|4Q||5:55||Loudoun Valley||Nick Novak to Max Randolph 3-yard TD pass (Henry McCllelan PAT)||29-14|
|4Q||1:29||Heritage||Braden Smith to Kyle Alt 20-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||36-14|