Good news for Heritage: The Patriots got their first touchdown of the season and were effective running the ball.
Not-so-good news: Habersham Central had just enough to overcome Heritage’s bright spots, and hand the Patriots a gut-wrenching 13-12 defeat Friday night.
The Raiders (1-1) drove 80 yards to the winning score, Kevin Ellison’s 1-yard run with 37 seconds left for a one-point win at Evans Stadium. It was Ellison’s second touchdown of the night and it gave first-year coach Stuart Cunningham his first head-coaching win. It was the Raiders fourth straight win over Heritage.
"The kids really played hard," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier. "We just came up short. We had a few mental mistakes that really hurt."
Habersham Central quarterback Austin Brown lived up to his billing as one of the state’s top juniors, completing 14 of 21 passes for 141 yards. Not overwhelming stats, but he was bloodless in his execution of the Raiders offense on the winning drive, connecting on 5 of 6 passes for 71 yards.
"We were just trying to hold onto the ball and finish the drive," said Brown.
The biggest play came on fourth-and-15 at the Heritage 21-yard line, when he connected with Chuck Rucker for 18 yards and a first down at the 3, setting up the winning score.
"That quarterback is sharp," said Frazier. "He really doesn’t miss anything. We got pressure on him in the first half, but not so much in the second."
The Patriots (0-2) outgained the Raiders 257-235, but squandered two first-half opportunities and fumbled a total of eight times.
Devon Holmes gained 94 yards on eight carries for Heritage, including five attempts for 76 yards on the go-ahead touchdown drive, which was highlighted with a 62-yard run. His 9-yard run with 3:56 left gave Heritage a 12-7 lead. Eian Williams had 61 yards on nine attempts and scored the other Patriot touchdown.
Heritage had to be wondering after the first half if it would ever score a touchdown against the visitors from Mt. Airy. The Patriots, who collected two safeties and a field goal in a 12-7 loss to the Raiders in 2008 and suffered shutout losses in 2007 and 2005, came away empty on two opportunities in the first quarter.
On their first possession, Frazier decided to gamble on fourth down at his own 29, and the short snap to Williams netted an 18-yard gain and a first down. Seven plays later, the Patriots had second and goal from the Habersham Central 5-yard line, but Williams fumbled and the Raiders’ Rodney Parks recovered.
"That kind of stands out," Frazier said. "We moved the ball down on the field and then we put it on the ground. We have to take care of the ball."
After forcing Habersham to punt from the 10, the Patriots again were in scoring range, starting from the Habersham 36. But after gaining a quick first down to the 22, quarterback Andre Wilson was sacked twice. Tyler Peoples’ 45-yard field goal try had plenty of distance, but hit the right upright.
"My ball drifts to the left so I tried to go to the right with it a little, and it went too far right," said Peoples. "We’ve worked so hard in practice, and to lose like that is devastating."
The Patriots put an end to the TD-less streak on the opening possession of the second half, driving 83 yards in 11 plays, consuming 5:46 of the clock. Williams went around right end from 4 yards out for Heritages first touchdown of the year, but Peoples’ extra-point try was blocked.
Habersham answered on the following possession, moving 74 yards in nine plays, aided by a personal foul against Heritage, and scoring on Kevin Ellisons’ 31-yard run. Josh Welborns’ extra point made it 7-6.