Patriots outlast Cats in rain-filled slugfestSeptember 10, 2018
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
JASPER — Senior Cade Jones has made a lot of big plays for the Heritage Hills football team throughout his career with his passing and his strength as a running back. But on Saturday against Jasper, his biggest play just happened to come on a punt.
With a two-point lead and a little over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Jones set back to punt the ball away like he’s done so many times before for the Patriots. But unlike the majority of games he’s sent punts deep with his leg, this one was played in torrential downpour that made every snap and every touch of the ball increasingly difficult.
Punting the ball from his own 12-yard line, Jones reached up to grab a high snap and sent a punt that rolled all the way down deep into Jasper territory and made things increasingly difficult for the Cats to drive the ball. The Cats did have a couple of chances on their final drive but Class 3A No. 9 Heritage Hills (4-0) recovered a fumble on a fourth down to seal the 14-12 victory at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium over the Wildcats (1-3).
“Honestly, being back near our own goal line and (punting) it at the end of the game in that situation just felt like a movie,” said Jones. “I knew I just had to catch the snap, punt the ball and then we’d go from there.”
It was an interesting 24 hours or so for both the Heritage Hills and Jasper football teams. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Friday night at 8 p.m. but constant lightning strikes kept pushing the start of the game back further and further. The original plan was to play the game no later than 10:30 p.m. on Friday but due to the steady stream of lightning, the game was postponed until Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.
The good news about Saturday was that there wasn’t anymore lightning and the game would be good to go. The bad news? Well, there was rain and lots of it — perhaps even much more than occurred on Friday night.
Fumbles occurred on two of the game’s first three possessions on Saturday as the torrential downpour made the football slick and every snap that much more important. It was obvious that with the harsh winds and rain blowing sideways that teams were going to stick to the ground as much as possible and it would be a battle of the rushing attacks.
Heritage Hills struck first in the first quarter as quarterback Cole Sigler took off on a 3rd-and-3 from their own 36-yard line for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Patriots ahead 7-0. The rest of the first quarter saw a bunch of drives that either ended with punts or a failed fourth down conversion attempt.
The next big play came at the beginning of the second quarter on another third-down play on a 3rd-and-9 as Jones busted out a 76-yard run as he out-hustled the Wildcat defenders to put the Patriots in the red zone. Jones would run it in himself a few plays later to make it 14-0 Patriots.
“The focus coming in was that we knew it was going to be ugly with the weather so the plays we had opportunities on, we had to capitalize,” Jones said.
Heritage Hills head coach Todd Wilkerson added: “I thought Cade’s run was awesome because he’s not necessarily blessed with the speed that some other guys have but he used his physicality to keep (the defender) off of him so he got us more yards on the play than I thought he would’ve gotten.”
Trailing 14-0, Jasper wasn’t going to go away easily. On their final drive before the halftime break, the Wildcats started to use the passing game to their advantage. Quarterback Nathan Rillo, who was starting in place for the injured Jacob Ahlbrand, found Phillip Noblitt on a 14-yard gain on a 3rd-and-8 early in the drive to keep things going and then a Heritage Hills pass interference penalty later in the possession kept the drive alive once again.
Jasper scored their first points just 20 seconds before halftime as Rillo found Noblitt for the second time in the game, this time for a 12-yard touchdown reception in the left corner of the end zone. However, the PAT attempt was blocked as Heritage Hills held a 14-6 lead at halftime.
“Going into the break our guys had some momentum,” Jasper head coach Tony Ahrens said. “But we have to continue to work on the consistency of working together, especially on offense.”
Jasper was able to continue that momentum into the second half. With 4:51 left in the third quarter, Kyle Hedinger recovered a Patriot fumble and on the very next play running back Lance Dawkins sprinted 39 yards into the end zone. The Wildcats decided to go for two to try and tie the game but the snap was botched so the Cats still trailed by two.
In the fourth quarter, Jasper was able to get another fumble recovery as Kadon Hurm forced a Patriot turnover but then the Cats had a turnover of their own as Sigler intercepted Rillo’s pass that was intended for Noblitt. The Wildcats had a couple of more chances toward the end of the game including a crazy fourth down play on the Cats final play of the game that saw Rillo nearly lose the ball on a high snap. He then took off trying to reach the first down marker on a 4th-and-10 but was hit by a Patriot defender causing the ball to pop loose and seal the victory for Heritage Hills.
“Moments like that are the greatest feeling so you just have to hype yourself up in some way,” said defensive back Kyndell Carter who made some big plays on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots in the fourth quarter. “Great moments like these during my senior year is what I’ll remember.”
Cole Sigler led the Patriots with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown while Cade Jones finished with 91 rush yards and a touchdown to lead Heritage Hills. For Jasper, Nathan Rillo was 2-of-9 passing for 26 yard with a touchdown and an interception while Lance Dawkins finished with 100 yards rushing to lead the way on the ground.
For Ahrens and the Wildcats, the loss was another moment of inconsistency for Jasper. There were several positives in the loss such as the strong play of guys like Rillo and the running backs Dawkins, Joe Wood and Caden Schmitt who saw an increased amount of action due to injuries but Ahrens said that the Wildcats still have yet to fix the mistakes that have plagued them in their other losses this season.
“We had a lot of good efforts but we’re not consistent enough right now,” Ahrens said. “We have to keep working on the things that are continuing to get us beat. You can’t deny this mistakes, you have to look at the mistakes and fix those things. If the kids are willing to do that, we’ll be alright.”
After defeating their last three opponents by a combined score of 156-9, Heritage Hills had a much closer battle on Saturday as the Patriots were tested throughout all four quarters but they responded for their first victory over the Wildcats since the 2016 season when they started with a 5-0 record.
The Patriots believe that this victory will give themselves a lot of confidence going forward and let other teams know that they mean business.
“Everyone has said how we hadn’t really played a tough schedule and we knew Jasper was a really tough opponent,” Jones said. “The attitude in our locker room before the game was that we just wanted to go out there and play. We didn’t care if it was raining or anything, we just wanted to play.”
Wilkerson added: “We talked this offseason about developing an identity and we’ve talked about mental discipline, toughness and focus. To do what these guys did in the span of 24 hours takes a lot of mental toughness, I’m proud of them for making plays when they needed to. This game is great for us at this point in the year because we learn a lot about ourselves win or lose.”
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