The Heritage Hawks went into Friday night’s second-round GISA Class AAA playoff game against visiting Tiftarea riding a wave of confidence, and with good reason.
After all, Heritage had already beaten the Panthers on the road during the regular season en route to a 9-1 record and a region title that gave the Hawks a bye into the second round.
This time, however, Tiftarea coach Erick Soliday had the perfect game plan for the Hawks’ normally high-flying offense and stingy defense.
Tiftarea built a 21-7 lead by converting several long third and fourth down plays throughout the night
Even after the Hawks tied the game at 21-all in the fourth quarter on back-to-back touchdowns from backup quarterback Tyler Foley to Brandon Scruggs, the Panthers kept fighting.
Tifarea got the ball back twice in the final 3:26 of the game and just like last week, Jayk Sailer was the hero, splitting the uprights on 23-yard attempt with under 10 seconds remaining to send the Panthers on to the final four.
Minutes earlier, the Panthers’ first field goal attempt was blocked by Jon Jon Williams giving the Hawks the chance to do something on offense.
However, Heritage’s drive ended up stalling when a fourth-down sack gave the ball back to the Panthers in what turned out to be their game-winning series.
In addition to his field goal, Sailer kept the game-winning drive alive and helped improve the squad’s field position with a couple of key catches.
On a wet and foggy night, Heritage set the tone early.
After forcing the Panthers to punt after just three plays to open the game, the Hawks marched 60-yards in seven plays.
Heritage picked up most of its yardage on the ground, but Williams had a key catch during the drive that went for a big gain.
With the Hawks facing third down, Andrew Rich capped the drive with a 13-yard scamper into the end zone.
The Panthers scored twice on their next two series, putting together an impressive 72-yard drive to tie the game at 7-all.
Quarterback Logan Crosson connected with Will Ross on a fourth-down and 20 to keep the sticks moving and six plays later, he scored on a quarterback keeper to tie the game.
Tiftarea increased the lead to 14-7 right before the break when Adam McKinney scored on a short run.
After a scroeless third quarter, Sailor caught a 12-yard TD passes just seconds into the final period to put the Panthers up 21-7.
One series later, the Hawks were back in the end zone.
Set up by Williams’ return to the Hawks’ 40, Heritage quickly moved down field.
Foley, who entered the game at quarterback when starter Branch Burns was hurt late in the first half, converted a third down with a quarterback keeper.
Two plays later, he hit a wide open Scruggs, who reached out one handed, pulled the ball back into his body and raced 52 yards for the score to cut the lead to 21-14 with 9:38 left.
Scruggs and Foley hooked up one last time to tie the game at 4:34, this time on a 42-yard pass play to tie the game.
With the win, Tiftarea moves into the GISA Class AAA Final Four, while Heritage ends its season with a 9-2 record.