Heritage-Conyers 14, Northgate 7
Deja vu for Vikings in loss to Heritage-Conyers
by Chris Goltermann
Northgate’s 2013 football opener was a near repeat of the first time the Vikings took on Heritage-Conyers last year with the margin between two evenly matched lineups again decided by a single score.
Despite another tenacious defensive effort from Northgate against the Patriots, this time on its home turf at Henry Seldon Field, Heritage used a final 16-play drive to chew up 78 yards and all but the last 14 seconds of the closing eight minutes of regulation to score the eventual game-winning touchdown in a 14-7 victory.
Patriots senior quarterback Ryan Sutton capped off a march that began after Northgate punter James Skalski pinned the team inside its own 20. The drive featured only a pair of third downs, with Heritage converting both on a night where it was successful in 6 of 13 such opportunities.
The last set up a 1st-and-goal for the Patriots at the 2-yard line with just over 30 seconds to play. Northgate held the goal line on the next snap before Sutton snuck in over right tackle with a dive into the end zone.
It was another tough loss to start the season for a Viking team that competed through all four quarters while giving up a size disadvantage on the line of scrimmage. Most of Northgate’s big gains came off the ends and away from 273-pound Patriot senior nose guard Derek Nance.
“It was like I expected it. I knew it was going to be close,” Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said. “I felt like it was a game between two evenly matched teams. We did a lot of typical first-game things, but I saw a lot of positives.” A year ago, the Vikings were equally forced to settle for a 9-7 loss in Conyers, with Friday’s effort once again feeling like a shot of deja vu for the folks in maroon and white.
“At the end of the game, we just kind of wore out down the stretch. I kept thinking we were going to find a way to make a play, we had been doing it the whole game,” Walburn said. “I can’t say enough about our defensive effort. I thought our special teams were good. Our offense at times was one step forward, two steps back.”
Northgate’s offense struggled while outgained 133 yards to just 41 through two quarters but only trailed 7-0. Heritage’s lone score off a 5-play, 37-yard drive was a direct result of a fumbled exchange between quarterback Tyler Rowland and fullback T.J. Womack and the ball caromed backwards an additional 10-plus yards in the scrum.
Rowland, however, came back in the game after teammate Bo Zachary was unable to help move the offense on a night where the Vikings were 0-for-8 on third-down conversions before Benton Washington finally converted the ninth attempt from 2-yards out to tie the game in the closing six seconds of the third quarter.
It came as a direct result of the last of back-to-back turnovers by Heritage in the third quarter, the latter caused when senior punter Austin Kulp put his knee to the turf while fielding a bad snap just in front of the goal line and Skalski less than a stride away from making contact.
The loss of downs set up a quick three-play drive to paydirt for Northgate to take a 7-7 game into the fourth quarter. But the team only managed six more offensive snaps the rest of the way. “I saw a lot of good things and a lot of things we’ve got to be better at if we want to be the type of team I think we can be,” Walburn said.
Both sides of the ball for Northgate looked strong at the start. A defense that picked up two sacks from Skalski and several big hits by fellow linebacker Ryan Fagerstrom forced Heritage to punt on its first series, before the Vikings pushed across the 50 prior to the early fumble.
“That takes you out of your rhythm,” Walburn said. “It just swung field position to them really for the rest of the first half, because they’ve got a good kicker who can boom it out of the end zone.”
The Patriots converted the early Northgate fumble following five consecutive handoffs to senior C.J. Stone, who had to earn the majority of his 128 yards on 27 carries, the first 16 of which came before halftime for 91 of the total. His 20-yard touchdown with 5:52 left in the opening quarter accounted for the only scoring of the first half.
The Viking defense, which forced a punt and two turnovers in the third quarter, the first of which coming on a fumble recovery by Kevin Teasley midway through the period, didn’t allow a gain larger than Stone’s scoring jaunt the rest of the way. Northgate’s biggest rush of 12 yards came to open its second possession while managing just five first downs in the game.
Benton Washington led Northgate with 30 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.