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by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — The turnovers aside, this was the kind of performance the Heritage High School football needed.
The Huskies overcame a slow start in the first quarter before defeating their top-ranked visitors Leesville Road 30-7 in a key Cap 8 Conference matchup Friday night before a packed stadium.
As it happened, Heritage, 4-1, 1-0, fumbled, threw an interception and missed a field goal in the early going before settling down to win their biggest game in the program’s short three-year history.
“Leesville Road has been a very successful program for the past eight years, so to beat a top program, it is exciting,” said Heritage coach Jason McGeorge. However, we must continue to work hard and prepare for each game.”
The victory was equally exciting for Husky fans and drew a celebration from the Hooligans, Heritage’s student body.
“They were awesome,” McGeorge said. “It is great to have that type of support from them and our fan base. It was a great environment and a fun game to be a part of.”
McGeorge said nothing changed for his team after the first quarter miscues. “We just executed better,” he said.
The Pride, playing without five starters, including senior star quarterback Braxton Berrios, came into the game averaging around 300 yards of total offense a game, with about 200 of those belonging to Berrios.
“We prepared as though Braxton was playing,” McGeorge said. “But I’m not worried about who did not play for Leesville Road. We did not have a few of our key starters either.”
“So our players prepared to win this game and our players played their guts out and our players won the game,” McGeorge went on to say. “I really think too much is being put on who did not play and not enough on the ones who did play.”
The key to our win, McGeorge said was “that 48 players worked their tails off and wanted to win this game.”
Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers agreed with McGeorge.
“Our injuries are what they are,” Smothers said. “I’m not going to use the injuries as an excuse.”
Smothers said he thought Heritage was one of the better teams in the area since August. “I’m not surprised at all with their success this season,” he said.
“The difference in the game was that they executed and played well,” Smothers said. “We did not play well and we have to understand that if we are going to be successful against a team of Heritage’s caliber, we must not shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers.”
The Huskies defense led by Matt Baker, Charles Clark and John McCaffity and Tyler Crowther held Leesville Road’s running game to under 50 yards in the first half and did not allow the Pride to cross midfield until the second half.
“We had great confidence in our defense and they continued to put our offense in great field position,” McGeorge said. “Coach Clark does a great job preparing our defense week in and week out.”
‘They are aggressive and it was fun watching the defense play tonight,” McGeorge added.
Heritage opened up the scoring in the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead, which stood throughout halftime.
“The score at the end of the half hurt us big,” Smothers said. “However, if we had come out and took the opening drive of the second half down the field and scored, it would have been a seven point game.”
Quarterback Blake Walters, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 209 yards, connected with wide receiver Jalen Parson twice for scores, including a 15 and a 5-yard touchdown pass.
“We were really moving the ball well in the first quarter but had some bad breaks here and there,” Walters said. “In the second quarter and for most of the rest of the game, we straightened our mistakes out and were able to put some points on the board.”
Walters said it’s great to get the first conference win out of the way, especially against a team like Leesville Road.
“But we still have to go out and play our best every Friday night if we want to win in this conference,” he said. “I’m sure that will continue to be stressed to our team.”
The Huskies scored again with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter when Abdul Sesay ran in from three yards out, giving Heritage a commanding 20-0 advantage.
Sesay led the Huskies with 125 yards on 26 carries.
The Pride finally got their offense going on the ensuing series and quarterback Mason Pyper threw 28 yards to Robert Ennis with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
Heritage added to its lead right away when Charles Johnson took the kick-off and raced 70 yards past Leesville Road defenders into the end zone.
“Coach Johnson is super with our special teams,”McGeorge said. “We have scored 12 special teams touchdowns in three seasons.”
Matt Sattler’s extra point kick extended the Huskies lead to 27-7 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
Leesville Road nearly drew within a score on their next drive, which started on their own 37-yard line.
The Pride picked up three first downs and reached Heritage’s 11-yard line and with a fourth and three, was stopped of another first down by defensive back Marsalis Laushaw.
A 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter by Sattler capped the scoring for both teams.
Heritage will travel to Sanderson, 2-3, tomorrow (Friday). The Spartans are coming off a 34-27 loss to Wakefield.
“Sanderson will be a tough, hard-nosed football game,” McGeorge said. “We will go out and practice the way we always have and change the focus to them. They want to run the ball and we want to run the ball.”
“They are aggressive defensively as are we, so we are two very similar teams,” he added. “It will be a great game on Friday night.”