CONYERS -- While the offense for the Heritage football team is still trying to find itself through the season's first three weeks, the defense and special teams seem to be doing just fine.
The defense forced five turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns, and a big special teams play helped the Patriots pull away from rival Salem in a 21-7 victory in the Region 8-AAAAA opener at Evans Memorial Stadium.
Heritage stayed unbeaten at 3-0 and won for the third consecutive time in the series with the Seminoles, who fell to 1-2.
The hosts led just 7-0 before a big play on special teams made it a two-score game. After forcing Salem to punt, Obe Fortune exploded down the sideline and returned the kick 61 yards to the Salem one-yard line. Myron Fears scooted in on the ensuing play to put Heritage up 14-0 with just over a minute to play in the third.
Salem quarterback Damian Gordon had the final of his five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) early in the fourth. Trying to get upfield on a second-and-long play, Gordon was stripped of the ball, Chase Alford pounced on the fumble and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 cushion.
"I think the more film they watch and the more experience they get ... (the) more confidence (they have) in each other," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said of the defense. "Reps, reps, reps (and) they recognize things easier."
The Heritage defense was opportunistic in the opening half as well and put the offense in good field position. Salem receiver Licash Lackey had a pass go off his fingertips and Myles Hunter was in the right place at the right time, intercepting the ball and returning 51 yards to the Salem 10-yard line. It took the Patriots one play to jump on top as Mercer Bradley rumbled in from 10 yards to make it 7-0.
Salem looked to be in perfect position to stun the host Patriots with a touchdown drive on the game's opening possession. Gordon completed all three of his pass attempts, including a 21-yard toss to Antone Leonard to get the ball to the Heritage four-yard line. Gordon just missed getting into the end zone on a third-and-goal run, then on fourth-and-goal from the one, fumbled, and Seth Fallen recovered for Heritage.
That was a sign of things to come in a scoreless opening half. Gordon was intercepted three times, the first two coming in Heritage territory, and Patriots' quarterback Ryan Sutton fumbled a snap that was recovered by Salem's Kevin Holmes. Despite collecting just 55 total yards in the first half, Heritage took a slim, seven-point lead into the locker room.
"I thought we did OK," Frazier said of the offense. "Second half we came out and played a little better."
"I think our kids played better this week than (they) did last week. We just got to minimize the mental errors," said Salem offensive coordinator Frank Caputo. "We're real close."