CONYERS - Superb defense and execution helped Heritage officially remain in the playoff hunt Friday night after upsetting Apalachee 20-0 at Evans Memorial Stadium.
Heritage (4-4) forced three turnovers against Apalachee (5-3), including two late in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, the Patriots did not commit any.
"It's been our nemesis for so long," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said of turnovers. "Last week we cut it back to one in conditions like this and tonight none. Our skill coaches are working hard not to let that happen, and the players have responded."
After holding Apalachee to four-and-out on its opening possession, Heritage set up shop on the opposing 25-yard line thanks to an illegal kick (punt). Six plays later the Patriots were on the scoreboard after a 4-yard sprint by Reggie Juin.
Grant Kelly provided the extra point to give Heritage a 7-0 lead with seven minutes and nine seconds to go in the first quarter.
On the ensuing possession, it was the special teams unit that gave the ball back to the Patriots. They reached into their bag of tricks early with an onside kick attempt. It paid off, as Heritage's Devon Holmes recovered the loose ball.
However, the Patriots were unable to capitalize after it was the Wildcats' defense holding the blue and white to four-and-out.
No matter. Heritage's defense retaliated by holding Apalachee to four-and-out.
After a five-play drive, it was Juin once more who put his team up by two touchdowns with a 25-yard run. After the PAT by Kelly, Heritage led 14-0 entering the second quarter.
"The field position we got set up by our defense really put us in a position to kind of go in attack mode," Frazier said. "We had momentum on our side and we wanted to take advantage of it there, and Reggie came up big - the offensive line came up big."
Juin ended with a game-high 71 yards on 11 carries.
Defense played an integral role for both teams in the second stanza.
The quarter began with an Apalachee punt; however, a personal foul on Heritage (roughing the kicker) gave the ball back to the Wildcats on their own 36-yard line.
Yet after compiling a 12-play drive, which chewed up 4:41 on the clock and brought the ball all the way to the Heritage 2-yard line, the Patriots held their ground, stopping Jeff Haney from crossing the goal line.
Despite the outstanding defensive effort, Heritage was held to a quick four-and-out, resulting in a 45-yard punt by Tyler Peoples.
Remarkably, the Patriots once again kept the Wildcats out of the end zone on yet another 12-play drive. With 7.4 seconds left until halftime, the entire Heritage defensive line stuffed running back Christian Hoard to keep Apalachee scoreless entering halftime.
"It was a two-score game, and if they score there then in the second half anything can happen," Frazier said. "That was a big momentum builder for us."