Perched on top: Heritage School wraps up region title with 29-14 victory
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
It doesn’t matter if it comes after the end of a Heritage School practice, a football game or an e-mail. Kevin Prisant ends all of them with two words.
They were region champions for the first time in Heritage’s seven-year football history.
Down 14-8 at halftime, the Hawks dominated from the second-half kickoff, scoring three times in the final two quarters and holding the Lions scoreless.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Prisant said. “At halftime we told them, this is yours. We made one big adjustment, but it wasn’t so much about x’s and o’s. They went out and finished what we started.”
Rallying from two scores down early in the second quarter, the Hawks went back to basics on both sides of the ball and trusted their instincts to outscore a hard-nosed Lions team with 21 unanswered points in the second half and putting a damper on Trinity Christian’s homecoming ceremonies.
(To view photos from this game, visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports / Football for the Photo Gallery.)
Playing on the same team since elementary school, seniors Candler Rich and Joe Bonner bounced back after sluggish starts to lead the comeback charge. It culminated with the duo connecting on an 85-yard pass play for a touchdown just moments after Bonner picked off a sideline pass inside his own 5-yard line with Trinity on the march, trailing 22-14.
Rich finished with 171 yards rushing and two touchdowns, 107 of which came after halftime. Bonner interception made up for a lost fumble on Heritage’s first possession of the game. He had another pick negated by a Trinity penalty inside Lions territory that allowed the Hawks to push the 22-14 lead four plays later on Bonner’s 1-yard touchdown with 1:05 left in the third quarter.
“We killed ourselves in the second half. Too many penalties, too many mistakes on our part,” Lions head coach Chris Hanson said after taking an early 14-0 lead. “I have to congratulate Coach Prisant and their staff. They’ve done a great job over there. We’ve just got to get back to work and get better.”
The win left The Heritage School (9-1, 4-1) on top in Region 2-AAA for a No. 1 seed to open next week’s GISA state playoffs at home. It’s where the Hawks had been all season despite dropping last week’s home game to Tattnall Square to make Friday’s scenarios much more interesting to close the regular season. Heritage’s nine wins also established a new single-season record for victories in a varsity football season.
Trinity Christian, meanwhile, closed the regular season at 6-4 and 3-2 in region play while forced to settle for the No. 3 seed from 2-AAA following Stratford’s big win over Westminster of Augusta. The Lions, who tripled last year’s win total in its second year since moving to the GISA, will travel to play Westfield in next week’s quarterfinal round.
Needing a win to stay alive for a possible region crown, Trinity marched nine plays for scores on its first possessions of the first and second quarters while looking nearly unstoppable. By halftime the Lions had outgained the Hawks 198 yards to 107 thanks in part to quarterback Connor Adams’ 6 of 8 passing.
Adams connected on his first four attempts to open the game on a 65-yard drive that ended with converted-lineman turned fullback Mark Collier plunging in from the 1-yard line during his Senior Night game.
Jay Warner then capped off another nine-play Trinity drive in near identical fashion to open the second quarter, ending it by breaking two tackles and bouncing into the open to his right untouched for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Lions with 8:38 left in the second quarter.
Trinity’s defense held Rich in check for most of the first half, allowing the senior just one gain of 10-plus yards in the first-two periods.
But the two-time All-State runner — who entered Friday with over 1,200 yards this year and more than 5,000 for his varsity career — found greater success as Heritage simplified its offense after halftime.
Rich’s 12-yard touchdown with 3:50 left in the first half got Heritage on the scoreboard on a nine-play drive where the biggest gain was Bonner’s 16-yard run on an option keeper.
“We went back to our base offense, the things we do best,” said Bonner, who connected on his first three passes of the third quarter after starting 1 of 3 for just seven yards. He finished 5-for-8 for 135 yards and the touchdown to Rich, which sealed the game.
The Hawks needed seven plays after a botched squib-kick to open the second half gave them possession at their own 47 to go ahead 15-14. A 17-yard strike from Bonner to tight end Tyler Henson provided a quick spark with Rich carrying it on four of the last five snaps before scoring untouched off right end from 25 yards with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
After Bonner’s 1-yard touchdown — helped by a pair of Trinity penalties — upped it to 22-14, the long touchdown pass between the senior teammates pushed the Hawks over the edge.
Pinned its own end, Prisant called for a pass where Bonner rolled to his right and threw across the field toward the far sidelines where Rich stood alone. The senior avoided the reach of Trinity’s speedy secondary all the way to the goal line.
“Coach Drew [Henderson] had radioed that Candler had been open on that same play a couple plays earlier,” said Prisant. “Gutsy? I guess.”
It came only moments after Bonner had ended a golden opportunity for Trinity with an interception following a 27-yard pass play from Adams to Dee Snelling inside the Hawks 35-yard line.
Going right back toward Snelling, Adams’ next attempt saw Heritage’s quarterback make arguably his next biggest play of the game on defense.
“He battles for the ball on every play,” Bonner said of Snelling. “It just feels great. It’s been a team effort. We’ve come a long way.”
SCORING SUMMARY – Heritage School 29, Trinity Christian 14
Heritage School 0 8 14 7 — 29
Trinity Christian 7 7 0 0 — 14
TC — Mark Collier 1 run (Cody Houser kick), 8:05
TC — Jay Warner 25 run (Houser kick), 8:38
HS — Candler Rich 12 run (Rich pass to Spencer Perry), 3:50
HS — Candler Rich 25 run (Ben Dudley kick), 8:45
HS — Joe Bonner 1 run (Dudley kick), 1:06
HS — Candler Rich 85 pass from Bonner (Dudley kick), 11:45