ATLANTA - Heritage and Tucker were locked in a close battle through two quarters Friday at Adams Stadium. But the third belonged to the Region 6 champions as Tucker turned a seven-point halftime advantage into a 35-14 victory in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Tucker, which remained unbeaten at 11-0, will host the winner of East Paulding-Creekview in next week’s round of 16. Heritage, which won its final two games to grab the No. 4 seed from Region 8-AAAAA, finished 6-5.
Tucker, which is in the state playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, led 14-7 at halftime and after Elijah Sullivan lost a fumble at midfield with just under nine minutes left in the third, it looked as if the visitors from Conyers might have a shot at getting even closer. Instead, Heritage went backwards two yards and punted and Tucker took control shortly after that.
The Tigers traveled 69 yards in just six plays and Joseph Farrar found Devin Towns for a 35-yard touchdown that put the DeKalb County school up 21-7.
Three plays into the next Heritage possession, Blade Reid fumbled, Dareus Brown recovered for Tucker, and after starting deep in Heritage territory at the 19, the Tigers went up 28-7 on a four-yard touchdown run by Dominick Sanders with under a minute left in the third.
Heritage, playing in the state tournament for a school-record fourth consecutive season, got as close as 28-14 when on fourth-and-three Sutton capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive with a six-yard scoring toss to Tray Moncrief.
With under three minutes left in the game, Sanders picked off a Sutton pass and returned it 67 yards for the final score of the night.
The game was not three minutes old and each team had already scored a touchdown.
Tucker’s Yaquis Sheeley took the game’s opening kick off and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown, escaping the reach of kicker Austin Kulp for the final spurt down the sidelines.
Heritage shocked the host Tigers with the tying score, driving 71 yards in just five plays, thanks in large part to poor Tucker tackling. Sutton found Obie Fortune for a 53-yard completion in which Fortune broke free after an initial tackle attempt. Sutton followed that with an eight-yard run to the Tucker 7, helped in part by another missed tackle. Blade Reid had a great second effort on the ensuing rushing attempt, pounding into the end zone and the Patriots had pulled even at 7-7 with 9:11 left in the opening quarter.
The rest of the first half was marred by turnovers and a pair of costly penalties, but none of the miscues resulted in points.
Tucker muffed a punt that Daniel Foster recovered to set up Heritage with excellent field position, but the Patriots gave it right back. Sutton and Reid had trouble with an exchange and Tucker’s Sullivan recovered. Tucker looked to have the lead when Farrar hooked up with Sanders for a lenghty passing touchdown, but Tucker was penalized for an ineligible man downfield. Early in the second quarter, Sutton was intercepted by Sanders and Sanders again looked to have a long touchdown, but the play was called back after Tucker was flagged for blocking in the back.
Before the interception, Sutton had hooked up with Anthony Stanley for a passing play to the Tucker 5, but it was wiped out by a holding call.
A fumbled kick off return by Stanley gave Tucker a first-and-goal at the 7. Like Heritage had done earlier in the half, the Tigers handed the ball back on the next play as Farrar carried the ball to the 3, then fumbled trying to get into the end zone.
In between the turnovers, Tucker grabbed a 14-7 lead.
Blessed with excellent field position at their own 48, the Tigers took a little over three minutes to score the go-ahead points as Farrar found Jonathan Ledbetter for a four-yard touchdown with 3:44 to play in the first half.