Let the playoffs begin.
Thanks to a 35-18 win over Madison County in the regular season finale and a unique tie-breaker situation the following morning, the Heritage football team finally knows its destination for round one of the Class AAAA state tournament: The Patriots aren't going anywhere.
With the Heritage win and Clarke Central's come-from-behind victory over Flowery Branch in Athens, the three teams finished the regular season with 9-1 records. That gave each team a share of the Region 8-AAAA regular season championship, which for Clarke was its second consecutive and for the Patriots and Flowery Branch, it was the first league title in the history of both programs.
But the split title also forced a tie-breaker situation early Saturday morning, and as Loganville principal and region president Nathan Franklin pulled each of the three schools' names from a hat, Heritage was the first name selected. That means a No. 1 seed and a home playoff game in the first round, Nov. 11 and the Patriots will host No. 4 seed Rome.
"We're just excited to have the opportunity to be in this position. It's fun," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said prior to the tie-breaker. "First of all, being a region champion is huge for these kids and our school, our program, and then that is worth taking the chance on being a three (seed), that's the worst case scenario. To me it's still worth being a region champion, so I'm excited."
Before the dramatic Saturday morning, Heritage took care of its business in dismantling Madison at Charles Evans Memorial Stadium on Friday night. The Patriots jumped on top right away with a 14-point opening quarter as Ryan Sutton found Quami Stanley streaking down the field for a 44-yard touchdown early in the first quarter to put Heritage up 7-0. Later, Hakeem Lewis had 29 all-purpose yards on four touches during a quick drive that ended with the senior fullback's one-yard touchdown plunge.
On the first play of the second quarter, Lewis scored again, this time from five yards to make it a 21-0 game. Late in the first half, Steven Everson made a circus catch down the sideline to set the Patriots up at the Madison 15. With one second to play, Sutton connected with Tyler Weaver for a 15-yard score and a 28-3 halftime cushion.
Jakeem Martin had a memorable senior night, scoring from three yards early in he third to put Heritage up 35-3.
The last Patriots squad to win as many regular season games was the 2002 team, which went 8-2 under current Madison County head man Randell Owens. The Conyers school also reached the nine-win plateau for the first time since 1986. Now, the Patriots will try to reach double digit wins for the first time in school history when the state playoffs begin Friday.
"It's awesome, made history," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier, who is the first coach in school history to both win a region title and take teams to the state playoffs in consecutive seasons. "I'll take (the region championship). It feels great. I'm so happy for the kids, I'm glad to see the hard work paid off."