Safety first Last-second reverse run ends Heritage’s streak to Ringgold
If you look back at the annals of high school football history, you would be hardpressed to find many running plays that resulted in negative-45 yards.
But Heritage High School now has one of those plays to its credit, and it will go down as one of the best and most memorable moments in the history of Generals’ football.
Facing fourth down from its own 45-yard line with 12 seconds to play and desperately trying to hang on to a 13-9 lead against rival Ringgold, head coach E.K. Slaughter needed a play to run out the clock without giving the Tigers a final chance to win the game.
He sent out the punt team, but instead of booting the ball away, punter Jeffery Curtis spun 180 degrees and began to run toward his own endzone, keeping one eye on pursuing Ringgold defenders and the other fixed on the scoreboard clock sitting on a hill to his right.
The Tigers gave chase, but couldn’t catch up to Curtis, who took all 12 seconds off the clock before crossing his own goal line and running out of the endzone for what is, by rule, a safety.
A few seconds after the final horn had died out, the rest of Curtis’ teammates and the entire Heritage student section finally caught up with him, setting off a party in the endzone to celebrate the Generals’ 13-11 victory on Jeff Sims Field.
It was the second win in two tries this season for the Navy-and-Red, but more importantly for Heritage and their fans, it was the Generals’ first victory in 10 tries all-time against their cross-town rivals.
“We knew all week that it was going to happen,” said senior linebacker Hank Weldon, who had two of the Generals’ five sacks on the night. “We practiced hard and we came out knowing that we were going to win. Our defense played shut down. Our offense got off to a rough start, but they came out in the second half and just did what they are supposed to do.”
“Everyone has wanted this the last nine years,” Slaughter added. “It’s been tough, but these kids have been through it and they deserve this. I’m super-happy for all of them and for all of the coaches that are here and for all the coaches who were here the last eight or nine years. For this whole community, it’s just awesome.”
In what turned out to be a defensive battle all night long, a 31-yard field goal by Ringgold kicker Garrett Davis on the initial drive of the game was all the offense that either team could muster until late in the third quarter.
Heritage, who had four passes picked off
in the opening half, including three by Tigers’ safety Blake Goldsmith, would finally get on the board with 1:41 left in the period. Quarterback Blake Bryan connected with Ryan Carter for a 19-yard TD pass on a fourth-and-one play to cap a short 28-yard drive.
The two defenses continued to slug it out in the fourth before the Generals’ finally put a sustained drive together. They marched 80 yards in nine plays, aided by two very costly 15-yard personal foul penalties on Ringgold, before Curtis went off right tackle for a 7-yard score with 3:15 to play in the game. A missed extra point kept the Heritage lead at 10 points.
Needing a quick score, the Tigers got one as Cole Kibler hit four different receivers to cover 79 yards. The final 35 came on an outstanding leaping catch by Andre Tarver that resulted in a touchdown with 1:20 to play, although a missed extra point kept the Heritage lead at four.
An onside kick attempt, however, went out of bounds and the Generals were able to collect a first down on a 13-yard run by Curtis before his minus-45 yard run sealed the deal.
Heritage finished with 303 yards of total offense, including 118 on the ground. Bryan had 70 yards on 11 carries and Curtis had 87 yards on 14 carries before his final statistic-sacrificing run. Bryan was 10-of-20 in the air for 172 yards with three picks, while Luke Grant led the way with 84 yards on three catches.
“Curtis was just a force tonight and there was never a time when Blake was down that someone wasn’t picking him up,” Slaughter said. “He had some rough moments, but he fought through it and made some big plays for us. On our last drive, he was playing his guts out. He literally threw up three times, but he stayed in the game and finished it. I can’t say enough about that kid. He’s going to be great.”
Grant and Carter had interceptions for Heritage, while the Generals’ five sacks of Kibler resulted in a net-loss of 34 yards. The Ringgold signalcaller, who threw for over 450 yards a week ago in a loss to Northwest Whitfield, managed just 235 on Friday, completing 17of-36 attempts.
Ty Jones ran 16 times for 47 tough yards, but as a team, Ringgold had 24 total carries for a net of 21 yards. Dylan Wright had seven catches for 79 yards, while Tarver
had four for 76 yards. Noah Keaton also had a pick for the Tigers on defense.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in our defense, I do,” Slaughter said. “But I really didn’t think we’d hold those guys to just one score in the endzone. They’ve got a quarterback who’s legit and some really good guys over there to go with some of the best coaches in the area. But our defense played their tails off. They just never quit.”
Ringgold head coach Robert Akins credited Heritage’s blitz package with keeping his offense from establishing a rhythm.
“They put a lot of pressure on us,” he said. “We knew they were going to blitz because that’s what they do, but we still didn’t handle it very well.
“We just didn’t play well enough to win. We made the same type of mistakes that we made the first game. We had some stupid penalties, like blocking in the back and personal fouls. That’s a major problem with us right now and unless we get that fixed, we’re not going to win many football games.”
Both teams will be back at home this Friday in non-region games. Heritage (20) will host Coahulla Creek, while Ringgold (0-2) will take on Fannin County at Don Patterson Field.
“I really didn’t think we’d hold those guys to just one score in the endzone. They’ve got a quarterback who’s legit and some really good guys over there to go with some of the best coaches in the area. But our defense played their tails off. They just never quit.” Heritage quarterback Blake Bryan leaps into the arm of lineman Zach Scott after Bryan’s third-quarter TD pass against Ringgold on Friday night. The Generals snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Tigers with a 13-11 victory in front of a standing-room only house at Heritage. (Photo by Danielle Jones Pickett)
Heritage High School senior right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox was one of five Georgia players selected to the 20man 18U National Team by USA Baseball in Minnesota last week. The squad will play in Canada, starting this Friday, in the WBSC World Cup where the United States is the three-time defending gold medal winners. (Messenger file photo/ Scott Herpst)