CONYERS - There wasn’t much to smile about on the Heritage sideline after 24 minutes of football Friday in Conyers. But in just over two minutes of game action at the start of the second half, the Patriots took the lead and held off a feisty rival.
Blade Reid rushed for 75 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown as Heritage held off Salem 17-12 in the Region 8-AAAAA opener for both schools.
Heritage was coming off a two-point loss to Rockdale and was in danger of losing to both its county rivals for the first time since 2007. Trailing 6-3, Heritage got a 34-yard return by Anthony Stanley on the opening kick off of the second half. Ryan Sutton found Obie Fortune for a key, five-yard completion on third-and-five, and thanks to a personal foul penalty on Salem, Reid scored from 10 yards on a sweep to put the Patriots up for good at 10-6.
Late in the third, Salem converted two fourth down plays - one where quarterback Licash Lackey was nearly sacked and falling down completed a 10-yard pass to Keyland Wright and the other when Tryiano Green had a six-yard run on fourth-and-inches.
After Green’s run got the Seminoles to the Heritage 40, Lackey and Jordan Scott couldn’t hook up on a third-and-seven pass attempt and the Seminoles punted after a 14-play drive.
The punt backed up Heritage to its nine-yard line, yet it led to a long drive that effectively put the game away. The Patriots ran the ball 15 of the 16 plays, but looked to be in trouble after first-and-goal at the three turned into fourth-and-goal at the two after three consecutive run plays totaled just one yard.
On fourth-and-goal from the two, C.J. Stone capped a 91-yard drive that shaved 8:26 off the clock, scoring from two yards to make it a 17-6 game.
“Played a better second half. We came out in the second half and did what we were supposed to do. Ninety-yard drive we had, that was critical,” said first-year Heritage coach Mike Parris, whose team improved to 2-1 overall. “Mentally we needed (the victory). I’m real proud of them.”
Salem didn’t quit with less than two minutes to play, and after a pair of incompletions, Lackey had a 19-yard run and completed three passes, including a 23-yard touchdown to Quintavious Byrd that cut the deficit to 17-12 with 48 seconds to play.
Salem’s on-sides kick was tipped into the air, but Sutton recovered for Heritage.
“I thought it was the best Salem-Heritage game I’ve been a part of. It was a great football game. It was toe-to-toe,” said fourth-year Salem coach John Starr.
A big gamble by the Salem offense allowed the hosts to build a halftime lead.
At the Heritage 28, Salem elected to go for it on fourth-and-17 and Lackey, who finished with 258 total yards of offense, and Kanome Macintsh hooked up on a beautiful 28-yard touchdown with Macintsh catching the ball in stride as he ran out of the back of the end zone.
That put the Seminoles up 6-3, but each team had a pair of drives that didn’t amount to any points and Salem went into the locker room with the slim lead.
The first gamble of the night by the Salem didn’t pay off. On a fourth-and-two from its own 28, Green didn’t pick up a yard on a draw and the Patriots took over in excellent position.
Reid had a 10-yard carry to pick up a first down to the Salem 13, but an incompletion and a fumble by Sutton - the Patriots recovered at the 16 - forced the visitors to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Austin Kulp with just over eight minutes to play in the opening quarter.
The rest of the half was marred by missed opportunities for both teams. Lackey was intercepted on a great play by Stanley as Stanley caught the pass and kept his feet in bounds.
Later, Salem had an 11-yard punt that gave Heritage the ball at midfield, but six plays into the ensuing drive, Kevin Simpson fumbled and Salem’s Rashad Long recovered.
Early in the second quarter, Salem went 13 plays to the Heritage 12, yet couldn’t convert a fourth-and-8 from the 12. Heritage moved just six yards on the ensuing drive and Sutton didn’t get off any effective punt, giving Salem the ball at the 21. Despite losing seven yards on three plays, Lackey and Macintsh found each other for the go-ahead points.
Salem had an excellent chance to add to its lead later in the first half. Lackey, who finished the game with 116 yards on the ground, made several cuts and exploded for what looked to be a 67-yard touchdown, but Salem was hit with a block in the back penalty.
Heritage could only muster 54 total yards and four first downs in the opening half.