By Becky Kimbrell-Norris
RALEIGH — Sanderson quarterback Matt Koehler methodically drove the field in what would turn out to be the game-winning drive with five seconds left and the Spartans capped a furious comeback with a 20-14 win over visiting Heritage Friday night.
The Spartans, 3-3, 1-1, rallied from a 14-7 deficit in the fourth quarter and scored two touchdowns in the final ten minutes to get their third win of the season.
“This was a big win for us,” said Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad. “This win is a reward for how hard our team has worked this season.”
Koehler captained a terrific final drive, starting with just 2:22 remaining in the game after Matt Sattler’s punt put Sanderson at the Huskies one yard line. Koehler took the Spartans 99 yards in ten plays.
Big runs by Jeriko Styles and completed passes to Marvin Motley kept the Spartans alive before Koehler ran in from 12 yards out to get the Cap 8 Conference win.
“That was a great punt by Matt,” said Heritage coach Jason McGeorge. “We had them backed up deep in our territory, however; they put together a solid drive to win the football game.”
It was also Koehler who scored Sanderson’s other two touchdowns.
“We competed well, especially in the second half,” Kolstad said. “We took good care of the football and did not turn the ball over.”
“We have been down most of our games but we knew we could play good against Heritage,” Kolstad added. “I thought we’d run the ball better but I was proud of the team’s effort.”
Turnovers played a huge part in Sanderson’s three losses this season, and the Spartans lost those games by a combined 19 points.
“We should be undefeated” Kolstad said.
Against Heritage, it took time to get rolling, but Sanderson found its game when it mattered most.
“It was a good football game and they were ready for us,” McGeorge said. “Sanderson is a very much improved team and I give them all the credit. “They played a great game and we knew they would be in great pursuit of a win.”
McGeorge said Sanderson made more plays when they had to.
“They have lost some close games and have been in every game and for us it was tough to be on the losing side tonight,” he said.
Heritage, 4-2, 1-1, struck first on its third possession of the game, going 63 yards in six plays with the final play a one yard quarterback keeper by Blake Walters.
Matt Sattler’s extra point kick gave the Huskies a 7-0 lead with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
A 47-yard strike from Walters to Charles Johnson set up that Heritage score.
Sanderson missed a scoring opportunity when their 37-yard field goal attempt was wide with 9:31 left in the first half.
Neither team scored again until midway through the third quarter.
Heritage reached midfield on a couple of carries by Abdul Sesay in the second quarter but they fumbled the ball away to the Spartans, which continued to struggled offensively and punted the ball back to the Huskies.
On the next series, both teams exchanged punts and Heritage took a 7-0 edge into the break.
“Our defense did a good job in the first half stopping their run,” McGeorge said. “Offensively, we didn’t pass the ball well and had several balls batted down.”
Sanderson started to rally in the second half, getting on the board after taking the kick-off to pay dirt.
Starting from their own 36-yard line, they opted to gamble on a fourth and two- situation and thanks to an offsides penalty on Heritage; the Spartans got a first down.
Sanderson picked up three more first downs and marched to the Huskies one-yard line after Koehler completed passes to Leonel Katuku, Michael Markland and Zairee Parker.
With 6:49 left in the third quarter, Koehler ran in from one yard out and an extra point kick by Grayson Gregory tied the score at 7-7.
The Huskies responded and capped an 80-yard drive when Walters connected with wide receiver Jalen Parson for a 42-yard score with 3:00 remaining in the third quarter. Sattler’s kick gave Heritage a 14-7 advantage.
The Huskies defense came up with a pair of big stops and defensive back Marsalis Laushaw deflected a Koehler pass, forcing Sanderson to punt.
Heritage could not get anything going on their next possession and had to punt the ball back to the Spartans.
Koehler then led Sanderson 70 yards in seven plays, which ended in a ten-yard scoring run by the quarterback with 10:51 left in the game. Gregory’s extra point kick knotted the score at 14-all.
Attempts by Heritage to make further headway were struck down by Sanderson’s defense. Their defense also came through on the Huskies final drive, holding Heritage to just four yards.
The Spartans had 213 rushing yards and Koehler passed 92 yards, completing 10 of 20 passes.
Walters completed 6 of 15 throws for 118 yards and Sesay was the ground leader for the Huskies with 65 yards on 14 carries.
Heritage will host Enloe tomorrow in another Cap 8 Conference game.
The Eagles are 0-6 and are coming off a 34-21 loss to Wakefield.
“With the loss at Sanderson, we’re not out of anything,” McGeorge said. “We will work on some things that need working on and be ready for Enloe.”
“They played us very tough last season and they have continued to improve,” he added. “They are an aggressive defense that likes to blitz and cause havoc and we have to react to the blitzing well in order to have success.”
On offense, the Eagles have a lot of formations that the Huskies will have to deal with. “We have to be disciplined and gap responsibility or they will make us pay.”
Kick-off is at 7 p.m.