Heritage quarterback Ryan Sutton makes evasive maneuvers during the first half in the playoff game with the Rome Wolves. Staff Photo: Lee Depkin
CONYERS - Rarely has a football team gone through such a wide range of emotions in such a short amount of time as Heritage did Friday. In a thrilling, second overtime period, Harrison Kulp kicked a 24-yard field goal and the Heritage defense gave up what looked to be a winning touchdown, then caused and recovered a fumble on the following play to escape with a 13-10 victory over Rome in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Heritage (10-1), the No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAA, reached the second round for the first time since 2004 and will host Region 2-AAAA No. 2 Ware County next Friday.
Neither team scored during the initial overtime period as Rome went backwards on three plays before an incompletion turned the ball back over to Heritage. Kulp got his first chance to win the game, but his 34-yard attempt was wide left. In the second overtime, the Patriots got a seven-yard hook up between Ryan Sutton and Chase Alford, and later, Kulp nailed the go-ahead field goal. On Rome's second overtime possession, Bo Tucker found a wide-open Veshawn Bell, and the Wolves' wide out looked to have crossed the goal line for what would've been the winning points, but was instead ruled down inside the 1. On the next play, Jamie Cooper took the hand off but was met immediately by Alford and Brandon Campbell and the ball was jarred loose. Myron Fears recovered, setting off a wild celebration at Evans Memorial Stadium.
"Crazy ending. We all believed," said Kulp. "Second (field goal attempt) felt way better than the first one."
"For those two things to happen in order like that, it's just a tribute to the hard work and effort," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier, who is the first coach in school history to reach double digit wins in a season. "Wow. I'll be saying 'wow' for a while."
Heritage was in good shape, up 10-3 early in the fourth quarter, when a bizarre sequence allowed Rome to pull even. On fourth-and-six at their own 37, Heritage lined up in punt formation, but instead had up-back Jamaal Lane throw and his pass was intercepted and returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Jordan McClure.
"By alignment it was there (but) obviously it was a bad call. That's my fault," Frazier said.
The teams combined for seven penalties within the first 10 minutes of the game before Heritage's swarming pass rush led to the first break of the game. Rome quarterback Chad Barton never saw Ryan Watson and the defensive back's hit caused a fumble and Dustyn Moore recovered to set Heritage up inside the 20. After the short drive stalled, Kulp's 26-yarder made it 3-0.
Another Rome fumble, this time coughed up by Cooper, gave the Patriots the ball at midfield with 1:43 left in the second. But in a fitting end to a mistake-filled first 24 minutes, Sutton threw his second interception of the half and Heritage went to the locker room holding the three-point lead.
Watson made a difference on the first drive of the second half and as a result the Patriots finally got into the end zone. On a third-and-long, Barton scrambled and didn't get rid of the ball, while Watson came storming through for the sack. That led to a short punt and a six-play drive that lasted less than two minutes. Quami Stanley's 22-yard run got Heritage in a first-and-goal situation, and two players later, Dominic Craft scored from seven yards to give Heritage a 10-0 cushion.
After only collecting 39 total yards on its first six possessions, Rome answered with a scoring drive of its own. The Wolves, who lost in the first round for the second consecutive season and finished 7-4, converted three third down plays on a 13-play drive that ended when Justin Van Riper's 29-yard field goal.