By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Heritage School and TiftArea Academy enter Friday’s game with plenty in common. And there’s maybe more similarities than the Panthers had hoped heading into the Hawks’ Homecoming week.
Both teams wound up with a bye week last Friday, but only one was scheduled as Heritage was already on its fall holiday.
TiftArea, however, was unable to host its Homecoming night after first-year GISA school Notre Dame Academy of Duluth forfeited for lack of players due to injuries.
It now leaves both the Hawks and Panthers hoping to ramp up success levels among six-win seasons back to where they were prior to their respective breaks.
Heritage School went to its bye week on a high note after storming back to defeat Brookwood School 21-20 at home following a touchdown run by Wright Arnall with 49 seconds left.
The Hawks again showed resiliency with their second straight one-point victory against an opponent from Region 3-AAA, with all five of its teams needing victories among crossovers in a much more competitive playoff race for state berths.
Among a 6-1 start, the victory over Brookwood pushed the Hawks record in this year’s crossover against Region 3-AAA teams to 3-1, with their only loss coming against defending champion Valwood in a game capped off by three consecutive Heritage fumbles after taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
But after pulling out one-point wins over two tough 3-AAA opponents in Southland (5-1) and Brookwood (4-3), the Hawks may be facing its toughest challenge among five consecutive crossover opponents.
Undefeated TiftArea (6-0, 1-0 in 3-AAA) is coming off arguably its most impressive victory of the year after shutting out last year’s state champs with a 34-0 decision over Valwood.
It was the Valiants first shutout loss since the 2011 GISA state playoffs.
The Panthers jumped out for all 34 points before halftime while led by senior Spence Massey’s 184 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
TiftArea stayed balanced, however, with two of its five pass completions going for scores from junior quarterback Logan Crosson.
It’s a blueprint that Heritage School equally used en route to rallying from a 20-7 deficit in its win over Brookwood.
But a balanced effort took a group performance on the ground for the Hawks after losing Andrew Rich midway through the first half to a lower-body injury.
Rich had 28 yards to up his season-lead to 742 to go with 10 touchdowns in his sophomore year.
Heritage, however, used its size up front to help keep the chains moving for six other players that had carries. Wright Arnall and Henry Arnall combined for 22 of Heritage’s 39 rushing attempts for 105 yards. Henry’s clutch fourth-down keeper set up Wright’s first score to pull within 20-14 before a 37-yard halfback-option pass from Brandon Scruggs to Peter Nell put the Hawks back in the red zone in the closing minutes after having forced a Brookwood punt.
“Second half everybody was just doing their job,” said Heritage head coach Micah Alba after the win.
Scruggs contributed in nearly every manageable way, rarely if ever coming off the field. He opened the Hawks’ scoring on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Henry Arnall among two pass receptions.