Northgate haunted by missed opportunities in 9-7 loss
By DOUG GORMAN
CONYERS — The Northgate Vikings will probably avoid putting much from Friday night’s season opener against Heritage Conyers in the end-of-the-year highlight video.
Northgate’s offense struggled at opportune times and its defense gave up one costly play late in the fourth quarter. The combination translated into a 9-7 loss.
Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn knows there is plenty to work on, but was pleased with the effort from his team.
“I am pleased with the way our guys fought,” he said. ”We played hard the whole time. We had some guys get banged up, but we had some guys step up too.”
Heritage place kicker Harrison Kulp split the up rights on three-of-four attempts in the season opener for both teams to pace the Patriots to the win.
Kulp went from goat to hero in a matter of minutes late in the fourth quarter. After missing wide on a 29-yarder with 5:10 left in the game, and Heritage behind 7-6, the senior had one last shot at redemption when Northgate had to give the ball back in four plays.
Heritage quarterback Ryan Sutton didn’t throw often in Friday’s night’s victory, but he came up with perhaps the biggest play of the game when connected with Steven Everson on a 30-yard catch to set up the game winning kick.
Everson out ran the Northgate defense to catch the ball over his shoulder on one of the biggest gains of the night for either team.
“They didn’t catch us off guard, their quarterback threw a great ball, and the receiver just went down and got it,” Walburn said.
Heritage took advantage of the momentum and eventually moved the ball down to the three before the Vikings stopped the drive to set up the 20-yard, game-winning field goal.
Both teams were bitten by the turnover bug throughout the night.
After a 77-play drive to open the game resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Kulp to give Heritage a 3-0 lead, the Patriots gave up the ball four times before the break.
Heritage turned the ball over on the next three series. Defensive lineman Sean Spencer, who has battled injuries the last two years, came up with the football to kill the Patriots second drive of the game. Sylvester Johnson and Dalton Lane then came up with fumble recoveries on the next two Patriot drives.
Right after Spencer’s fumble recovery, Northgate picked up its initial first down of the game when Marquis Jennings converted a fourth-and short run, but the Vikings were unable to put the ball in the end zone.
After the Johnson and Lane recoveries, Northgate went four-and-out on the next two series.
The Vikings created plenty of fireworks right before the end of the first half when they finally converted a turnover into their only score of the night. Andrew Brady set the tone for the dramatic first-half ending when he intercepted a pass and returned it to the Heritage 25.
After failing to move the ball on the first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Josh Harrison connected on a screen pass to running back Michael Willis for a touchdown with 10 seconds left to push the Vikings out to a 7-3 lead.
Despite taking the lead at the break, Northgate managed just two first downs in the first half and 10 yards of total offense.
The Vikings were their own worst enemy in the second half. Although they found a little spark with Harrison calling his own number and running the football for a couple of first downs early, the Vikings turned over the football three straight times.
Heritage took advantage of the early third-quarter mistake when Kulp converted a 25-yard field goal to cut the lead 7-6.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” Walburn said. “That’s why we play a team like this. They have had a good football team. We didn’t come down here to get a moral victory, we wanted to win the game, but it just didn’t work out.”
After Kulp put his team up 9-7, Northgate had one more chance to move the football down field with about a minute left, but Myles Hunter intercepted a Harrison pass to end the Vikings’ hopes for a big comeback.
Northgate returns home next week for a game against Griffin. The following week, the Vikings face North Clayton. Northgate knocked off North Clayton in the playoffs last year. The Vikings first three games were against teams that made the playoffs last year.
Northgate 0 7 0 0 – 7
Heritage 3 0 3 3 – 9
H – Harrison Kulp 22 kick, 9:24
NG – Josh Harrison 25 pass to Michael Willis (Zack Braun kick), .10
H – Harrison Kulp 25 kick, 7:39
H – Harrison Kulp, 20 kick, 1:03