Conyers The best season in the history of Heritage High School football came to an end Friday in Conyers. Josh Bennett and Xavier Tobler accounted for all three touchdowns and the Ware County defense was dominant in defeating Heritage, 24-3 in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs at Evans Memorial Stadium.
Ware (10-2), the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AAAA, reached the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season and will travel to Clayton County to face Region 4-AAAA champion Lovejoy. Meanwhile, the co-Region 8-AAAA champion Patriots finished 10-2, collecting the most wins in school history and advancing to the round of 16 for the first time since 2004 .
"I'm so proud. What a season," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier. "I'm so excited, we don't want to settle for (the second round), keep getting better. Proud of these kids."
The game turned in Ware’s favor for good during a six minute stretch in the third quarter. Leading just 7-3 at halftime, the Gators forced a three-and-out, then got to work on offense. Bennett had an excellent night running the football from the quarterback position, and he capped a nine-play drive with a five-yard touchdown run to give the visitors from Waycross a 14-3 cushion.
Ware spent the majority of the evening using short kicks to try and catch Heritage’s return team off guard and it finally worked. Seth Starling’s kick fell short of a Heritage up-back, leading to a fumble and a recovery by Treyvon Steele. It took Ware six plays to add to its lead as Bennett found Tobler for a 22-yard touchdown.
Starling put the game out of reach, booming a 47-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach at 24-3.
"They were just better than us. They played better than us," Frazier said. "It stinks (but) they're a great program. You could tell they were in control."
The first quarter was about Ware County mistakes, but Heritage didn’t take full advantage of three Gators’ turnovers. A fumble on the opening kick off allowed the Patriots to score the first points of the game, but that’s all the Patriots would get in the first 24 minutes. Cat Jenkins fielded the kick and got to about the 25 before coughing up the ball. Obe Fortune recovered and after a stalled drive, Harrison Kulp’s 33-yard field goal put the hosts up 3-0.
Later in the quarter, Tyler Ray had a seven-yard gain on a dump off pass, but dropped the ball, and Ware got inside the Heritage 10 until Tobler fumbled.
"That was frustrating, got to capitalize on those opportunities," said Frazier.
Ware took its first lead early in the second, thanks to a trick play that nearly led to a fourth turnover. Chase Morris got a hand off on a reverse and just escaped the grasp of the Heritage defense and hung onto the ball, turning the play into a 30-yard run to the Patriots’ eight-yard line and three players later, Tobler rumbled in from a yard out to put Ware up 7-3.
The Patriots got a circus catch from Steven Everson to keep a drive alive late in the first half. On third-and-one, Ryan Sutton, facing heavy pressure, hooked up with Everson, who caught the pass while lying on his back. That didn’t translate into any points as Sutton threw a pair of incompletions, and Chris Raines’ 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds left was short.