Patriots find powerful Titans good as advertised

Herald Sports Writer

LINCOLN CITY — Gibson Southern has made a mockery of defenses this entire season, averaging 52 points a contest. But after five games and five wins against a slate of opponents with a combined 9-16 record, the verdict was still out as far as what the Titans could muster against a quality opponent.

As it turns out, it’s pretty much the same.

Heritage Hills ran into an offensive monster Friday night in Lincoln City, falling 50-26 against their Pocket Athletic Conference foe. The Class 3A No. 4 Titans never trailed, reaching the half-century mark in scoring for the fifth time this season. The last time Heritage Hills (2-5, 2-3) allowed more than 40 points in a game was in a sectional matchup against Jasper in the 1994 sectional.

The Patriots struggled to corral Gibson Southern (6-0, 4-0) and its no-huddle spread offense. The Titans scored three times in the first quarter, each on drives of more than 60 yards and in less than three minutes. You could have been excused for thinking the The Jungle had suddenly become College Station. Sophomore quarterback Nick Sellers, who was averaging 196 yards a game before Friday’s contest (good for 24th in the state) threw for 300 yards on 16 completions and spread four touchdown passes between four receivers. His first half — 13-of-16 for 255 yards — was a thing of offensive mastery.


But as great as the Gibson Southern offense looked, the Patriots’ secondary did not help itself, allowing two wide-open scores of 13 and 52 yards on missed assignments.

“You cannot let people run wide open down the middle when you’re in man-to-man coverage, and that happened to us twice,” Patriot coach Todd Wilkerson said. “Man-to-man coverage; blown coverage. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. That’s just not being mentally disciplined. You come out and play that way, you’re going to have trouble with anybody.

"They are a great football team. We knew we were going to have to play very well. ... And defensively, in the secondary, we played about as bad as we could play.”

Heritage Hills, without defensive standout Kenton Crews after a concussion in last week’s game, found itself chasing Titan receivers all night. The spread attack was just as much dump-and-run as long pass plays. The Titans averaged 8.5 yards a pop on their way to a 457-yard night.

The Patriot offense, though was not without success. In just his second game after returning from an ACL tear, Logan Wilkerson passed for 207 yards and two touchdowns. After the Pats fell behind 15-0, Wilkerson led a two-minute, 79-yard drive that featured two big receptions from Caleb Sabelhaus. The junior, who’d been hampered early in the season with a hip injury, caught two balls for 61 yards on the drive, including the drive-capping touchdown, a leaping grab in the back corner of the end zone. Sabelhaus finished with one more catch — a 29-yard grab — for 93 total yards.

But as the margin widened, the room for error quickly vanished, and a 46-yard interception return by Gibson Southern’s Mason Lankford on the opening drive of the third quarter created an almost insurmountable lead.

“It puts a lot of pressure on us,” said Logan Steckler, who led all Patriot receivers with 77 yards on five receptions and a touchdown. “I think if we have less pressure like we’re used to, we get up right away. You don’t have to worry about scoring all the time. And if you’re more relaxed about scoring, you can make more yards, keep your mind on what your job is rather than getting a first down every play.”

“The best defense against Gibson Southern is to grind it out offensively,” Todd Wilkerson added. “The best way to keep them out of the endzone is to keep the ball ... and make them play defense. They’ve got some great athletes out there. You’ve got to mix it up. We thought we mixed in the short passing game pretty well at times. We’ve just got to get better.”

The good news for Heritage Hills is help should be on the way. Crews could be out for the foreseeable future, but senior lineman Andy Sickbert could return next week, bringing toughness and experience to a young front four. Sabelhaus is working back into a comfort zone. Logan Wilkerson is still getting into to the rhythm after sitting out four games.

“(With the injuries), what’s difficult is continuity,” Todd Wilkerson said. “You have to move kids around. A kid is one position one week, another position another week.

“Our attitudes have been good. We’ve got kids that are working hard, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on is getting better each week. We still think we can be a good football team and we believe in that.”

The bad news, though, is that Heritage Hills gets little time before its next test against versus a ranked foe. Class 2A No. 9 Southridge (5-1, 4-0) visits next Friday.

“Southridge is every bit as hard as Gibson Southern,” Steckler said. “I live over that way and I know a lot of Southridge guys. ... I’m ready to play. Hopefully next week we have Andy Sickbert back. We might have Sam Collins back. We’re really injured right now. ... We should be a lot better once we get those players back.”

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