Pats unable to find rhythm in loss to Titans

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Heritage Hills head coach Todd Wilkerson embraces senior Grant Lashley after Friday's Class 3A semifinal sectional football game against Gibson Southern in Fort Branch. The Patriots fell 24-14 to the Titans as their undefeated season came to a close. Heritage Hills was unable to find much of a rhythm as a few mental mistakes proved costly in the defeat.


FORT BRANCH — Coming into Friday night’s Class 3A football sectional semifinal between No. 3 Heritage Hills and No. 8 Gibson Southern, the Patriots were the fourth highest scoring team in their class averaging nearly 43 points a game.

But throughout the majority of Friday’s 24-14 loss to the Titans, Heritage Hills head coach Todd Wilkerson felt that the Patriots were unable to ever truly get into a rhythm on offense.

“It seemed like it was just one of those nights where we were a little off,” Wilkerson said. “Our lack of production just hurt us and you can’t do that. They made some adjustments on some things they showed us and that’s just the way it is — you have to make plays and you can’t make mental mistakes and we just had too many mental mistakes.”

One of the plays that Wilkerson felt was a turning point happened late in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 14-14, Heritage Hills forced Gibson Southern into a 4th-and-8 at the Patriots 39-yard line — a punting situation for the Titans. However, the Patriots jumped offside which made the 4th-and-8 become a 4th-and-3.

The Titans then decided to go for it and Mitchell Spindler gained 11 yards for a Gibson Southern first down. Just five plays later, freshman quarterback Brady Allen took a quarterback sneak 1-yard across the goal line to break the tie, 21-14.

“We just gave them five yards with that mental mistake and then (they) went for it and made it,” Wilkerson said. “If we play the defense that we should then we’re okay but high school football is so much about emotion and momentum.”

The Patriots fell behind early as Gibson Southern scored at the 6:36 mark in the first quarter as Allen found Spindler for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Titans ahead 7-0.

Heritage Hills had rarely trailed during the regular season and Wilkerson admits that not having to play from behind often may have caught the Patriots a little by surprise in Friday’s sectional semifinal game.

“It’s a challenge but when we’re just one score (behind), we don’t feel that we need to panic,” Wilkerson said. “Sure you’re not feeling great but you’re still fine. We just can’t get down on ourselves.”

The Patriots made a big play right before halftime as the Titans appeared to be heading for a double-digit halftime lead. Gibson Southern had marched down the field after starting on their own 19-yard line but things sputtered out at the Patriot 24-yard line.

Spindler appeared to have a solid run but a swarm of Patriot defenders hurled in and forced a fumble. Heritage Hills tried to make one final push before halftime but went into the break trailing 7-0.

However, the second half started the best way possible for Heritage Hills. On their very first play of the second half, Jacob Wetzel busted through the Gibson Southern front line and found open space en route to a 70-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.

But just when things started looking good for Heritage Hills, Gibson Southern answered back with authority. After a run play that only got four yards, Allen found Spindler on a screen pass and Spindler took it 76-yards to the house to give Gibson Southern back the lead, 14-7.

“We went into halftime to look at the defense and we were able to rip off a play to tie it right back up,” Wilkerson said. “After that, if we stop them then maybe things turn out differently.”

But it wouldn’t take much longer for Heritage Hills to answer back. On a drive that started in good field position due to a short Gibson Southern punt, the Patriots took advantage by getting short runs from Wetzel, Cole Sigler and Phoenix Rodgers to punt them in the red zone.

Gibson Southern's Beau Lamey tackles Heritage Hills' Cole Sigler during Friday's Class 3A semifinal sectional football game in Fort Branch. Sigler had a few big rushes in the loss but the Titan defense forced Heritage Hills into several short drives and plays that resulted in loss of yards.

Finally with 2:12 left in the third quarter, Wetzel broke through from 6-yards out to put Heritage Hills back even with Gibson Southern at 14-14.

After a few drives that stalled for both teams at the start of the fourth quarter, the Titans took the lead on the Allen QB sneak after the fourth down conversion. But with 3:37 left in the game, Heritage Hills had plenty of time to come up with a drive to tie up the game.

However, after a few run plays that didn’t gain much yardage the Titans defense came up with a major stop as Caleb Sellers intercepted Sigler’s pass to give Gibson Southern the ball back in great field position. The Titans would add a 24-yard field goal by Bryce Williams to make the final score 24-14 and end Heritage Hills’ hopes for a sectional championship — a much different result than the 31-7 victory the Patriots head earlier in the season at Fort Branch.

Jacob Wetzel led the way in rushing yards for Heritage Hills with 125 while Cole Sigler finished with 75 yards. Kyndell Carter added 14 rushing yards while Cade Jones added 10 yards.

“I’m very proud of this group to go through this season, especially after coming off of a 5-5 season last year to 10 wins,” Wilkerson said. “We’re definitely disappointed we aren’t playing next week but there’s only one team in the class that gets to end the season without a loss. High school players all over learn that it hurts really bad but you have to grieve and get over it — life is that way too, you just have to learn to deal with it.”

For senior Cade Jones, going out with a loss like this is a difficult way to end his high school career but he’s thankful to have ended it with a successful season that saw the Patriots record their first undefeated regular season 2007 and a Pocket Athletic conference championship title.

“It meant the world honestly,” Jones said. “My first three years we lost in the first round of sectional and had okay seasons but we never really got anywhere. This year meant a lot and I feel like we definitely brought Patriot football back to Heritage Hills.”

What does Jones describe as Patriot football exactly?

“It’s just all about having heart honestly,” Jones said. “When I watched Patriot football growing up, I always saw a lot of heart and I think we showed that tonight and throughout the whole season. We just came together as a team and I hope (the underclassmen) can learn to carry on and realize that they can go even further.”

More on