Patriots stay perfect, head to championship game

The Heritage Hills Patriots celebrate a 21-20 win over the Gibson Southern Titans in the Class 3A Sectional 32 semifinals in Fort Branch Friday evening.

Special to The Hearld

FORT BRANCH — Instead of celebrating with his team following the biggest win of his high school career, Heritage Hills’ do-it-all senior Cole Sigler elected to console his heartbroken opponents.

Sigler, who plays quarterback, defensive back and returns punts, stood along the goal line with his arm placed on the shoulder of Gibson Southern kicker Jake Novotony.

The Titans were in shock. Some were crying. Novotony had collapsed to both knees.

Moments before, the Patriots had just blocked what would’ve been a walk-off, 25-yard field goal. They completed a fourth-quarter comeback from two scores down and won 21-20 over their Pocket Athletic Conference rival on Friday night.

Yet, before basking in the victory to stay perfect and alive in the playoffs, Sigler was sure to let the Gibson Southern players know how much he respects them. He was there to pick them up when they were at their lowest.

“That was an epic game,” Sigler later said. “They’re a helluva team but we got it done. It just went our way.”

Heritage Hills (11-0) and Gibson Southern (8-3) are quite familiar with each other considering Friday’s Class 3A Sectional 32 semifinal was their fourth meeting in the past 13 months. A year ago, they split, with the Titans getting the last laugh in the postseason.

Friday night, No. 2-ranked Heritage Hills already had the upper hand after blowing out Gibson Southern 49-14 back in Week 6. The Patriots even got off to another hot start, leading 7-0 after the first quarter.

Momentum shifted, though. Gibson Southern rallied to go up 14-7 at halftime. It added another touchdown in the third quarter to make it a two-score game, though the extra-point attempt was no good.

The Patriots had their backs against the wall, down 13 points with 6:47 remaining. Were they really going to get bounced from the playoffs by Gibson Southern again, spoiling another perfect season?

Nope. They found a second chance.

“People probably thought when we got down 13 the game was over,” Sigler said. “We never gave up. That just goes to show you’re never out of the fight until the clock hits zero.”

Sigler ran for a 25-yard touchdown to get back within one score, down 20-14 with 5:43 remaining. That allowed the Patriots to stop playing catchup and get back to their style of game – one that thrives on defense, moving the ball on the ground and strong special teams play.

Gibson Southern then punted. Of course, Sigler recovered it — and then ran 61 yards.

“Any time No. 15 touches it in space, that’s a scary deal,” Gibson Southern coach Nick Hart said. “We were trying to keep it away from him and the ball took a hop toward him. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Next play: Heritage Hills’ Jacob Wetzel runs for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Patriots the lead. He finished with 114 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries while Sigler ran for 80 yards and two scores.

“We had to keep grinding,” Wetzel said. “You never know what can happen. We were down two touchdowns and just like that we were back up. Anything can happen.”

Heritage Hills' Kaden Feldpausch (3) rushes for positive yards as the Gibson Southern Titans play the Heritage Hills Patriots in the Class 3A Sectional 32 semifinals in Fort Branch Friday evening.

Heritage Hills nearly left too much time on the clock, too. Gibson Southern moved the ball down to the Patriots’ 8 yard-line with ease. But the Patriots are relentless and blitzed on the 25-yard kick attempt to block it.

Gibson Southern’s season is over while Heritage Hills is still perfect. The Patriots will advance to next Friday’s sectional final at home against 9-2 Southridge.

“I’d try that (kick) again 100 times out of 100 with him,” Hart said. “He’s been phenomenal all year and if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the exact same thing. We had a chance to make a lot of other plays than just that one.”

The Titans outgained the Patriots 399-253 and had the ball for five more minutes. Sophomore quarterback Brady Allen finished 8 of 13 passing for 103 yards while running back Mitchell Spindler compiled 194 yards and scored twice on 38 carries.

It took them nearly an hour to clear the field postgame. The seniors didn’t want to leave.

“I’m proud of them,” Hart said. “We got our butts kicked by this team five weeks ago and thought we had them on the ropes there,”

Heritage Hills wasn’t a fan of its sectional draw – not after already facing Gibson Southern and Southridge back to back in the regular season. Now, they’ll have to do it again, but they have new life.

This year’s Patriots are in unchartered territory, vying for their first sectional title since 2015. They simply don’t give up.

“I want you to enjoy this moment,” Wilkerson told them postgame. “We’re not done. Let’s get it together, go back to The Jungle and take care of business.”

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