by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — The Heritage Huskies and East Wake football teams each played one half of strong football Friday night at Heritage High School.
The Huskies dominated in the first half, the Warriors in the second.
The 27-point lead Heritage built up in the first two quarters proved to be enough of a cushion and they were able to fend off a second-half comeback from East Wake, escaping with a 41-35 victory.
East Wake put up 28 points in the second half, but they needed 35 and fell just short of a spectacular comeback.
“It was a unique game and a tough one,” said Heritage coach Jason McGeorge. “We got up 41-14, then made some substitutions and had some breakdowns and miscommunications.”
“East Wake started playing with confidence while we lost ours,” McGeorge added. “Once we took our foot off the gas pedal, we could not get it back going; however, it’s good to get the win.”
While Heritage’s offense was putting points on the board, their defense was causing East Wake’s offense to struggle, despite a scrappy performance by Warrior quarterback Trent Evans.
The Huskies got off to a fast start and moved quickly into East Wake territory when Matt Baker returned the opening kick-off to the visitor’s 17-yard line, setting up their first score — a field goal by Matt Sattler.
“That was a good start to the game,” McGeorge said. “It gave us momentum and put us in scoring position early and we were able to get points from Matt’s return.”
From there, it was all Heritage, which scored on its next three possessions.
East Wake could not find an answer for running back Abdul Sesay, who scrambled for 117 yards on 28 carries.
“We expected them to try and maintain possession of the ball through their running game to keep us on the sideline offensively,” said East Wake coach John Poulnott. “Unfortunately, we helped their cause with short drives and turnovers in the first half.”
On the Huskies’ next possession, quarterback Blake Walters ran in from 10 yards out.
Heritage got three quick first downs on their next drive, which was capped by a 3-yard run by Sesay to put the Huskies up 17-0.
The Warriors answered back and drove 80 yards in six plays and scored its first touchdown on a 29-yard pass from Evans to wide receiver Evan Finch.
From there, it only got worse for East Wake. Walters hooked up with Jalen Parson for a 39-yard touchdown score with 5:03 left in the first half.
Even Heritage’s defense, which was making big stops, responded in a huge way. Defensive back Marsalis Laushaw picked up an East Wake blocked punt late in the second quarter and ran into the end zone from about 10 yards out.
“Ball security has been a point of emphasis all year,” Puolnott said. “In both the Wake Forest and Heritage games, one quarter of turnovers has cost us dearly.”
On the Warriors next possession, the Huskies’ Matt Baker recovered a fumble by Evans, setting up a field goal by Sattler, which gave Heritage a 34-7 lead at intermission.
East Wake drove into Heritage’s side of the field on their first possession of the second half and added a 31-yard touchdown score on a pass from Evans to Finch.
Sesay scored on a 5-yard run with 6:36 left in the game, giving Heritage a 41-14 lead.
The game looked like it still might be a rout for Heritage, however; the Warriors scored three touchdowns and all within 90 seconds before time ran out.
“We are extremely proud of our kids response in the second half,” Poulnott said. “It is so easy to lay down and point your fingers at each other when things aren’t going your way.”
“Our kids took the other path and stuck together, just as we coach them to. One more play our way and who knows what could have happened.”
This is one game that McGeorge said his team ran and threw the ball well. “But all of our players have to step up and fill their roles,” he said.
Walters completed eight of 12 passes for 139 yards and the Huskies rolled up 322 total yards of offense.
Defensively, Heritage was paced by linebackers Tyler Crowther and John Murphy McCaffrey, with nine assisted tackles each.
Defensive back Charles Clark was in on six tackles and also had six on his own while Baker accounted for two quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery.
Evans led the Warriors offensively, throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns on 21 of 33 pass completions. On the ground, East Wake churned up 155 yards.
Heritage, with their best start in the program’s three-year history, at 3-1, will have this Friday night off before beginning Cap 8 conference play Sept. 27.
“We’re excited about starting the conference,” McGeorge said. “I think the week off will benefit us somewhat. We have a few banged up people and the time off will allow us to get them healthy and to prepare for our next game.”
The Huskies will host top-ranked and undefeated Leesville Road. Last season, they competed with them close during the regular season before losing 17-13. They also had to play them in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs and were defeated 43-13.
‘We are excited to open our conference schedule with an opponent like Leesville Road,” McGeorge said. “We will prepare for this game as we have for all of our games.”
“Last year’s game was last year,” he added. “They have new players and we have new players in key positions. ”
The game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.