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Tigers slop by Patriots in opening round

It was a messy, sloppy game befitting a rainy November night, but when the mud cleared, it was No. 1 Tucker that came away 35-14 victory over Heritage at Adams Stadium in the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class 5A Football Tournament.

The Patriots’ Donnovan Norfleet terrorized the Tigers’ backfield, but Tucker’s offense did just enough to move on to the second round.

Tucker limited Heritage to 37 yards on the ground in the second half of play, while forcing the Patriots’ Ryan Sutton to throw the ball 22 times in the second half for 133 yards, a score and an interception.

Heritage running back Christian Reid was held to nine yards in the second half after scoring on the Patriots’ opening drive, but the sophomore committed two of the Patriots’ four turnovers in the loss.

The loss ends the season for the Patriots, who finished 6-5 overall, while the Tigers will move on to face East Paulding next week in the second round.

The Patriots faced a 28-7 Tucker lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Heritage’s offense showed a spark of life after being held scoreless since its first possession of the game.

Heritage drove 83-yards on 11 plays into the Tigers’ end zone, cutting Tucker’s lead to 28-14 with 9:09 left in the contest on an 11-yard strike from Sutton to wideout Tray Moncrieff. Austin Kulp connected successfully on the extra point attempt, bringing the Patriots within two scores of the top-ranked Tigers.

The score was the last for the Patriots,however, as two possessions later the Tigers clinched the game with an interception return for a score by Dominick Sanders. The interception was Sanders’ second of the game, and his fifth in his last two contests, and sealed a 35-14 victory for Tucker.

Tucker also scored in the second half on a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joseph Farrar to running back Devin Towns and on a 3-yard run from Sanders.

Tucker opened the game with a bang on the opening kickoff, returning the Patriots’ kick for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.

Heritage responded on their opening possession, driving the ball 58 yards into Tiger territory. Reid capped off the scoring drive on a short run inside of the Tigers’ 5-yard line after Sutton set the Patriots’ up inside Tucker’s red zone with a deep pass, tying the contest at 7-7 with just over nine minutes to go in the game.

After a Tucker punt, the Patriots were forced to punt for the first time in the game, but the Tigers muffed the return and the ball was recovered by the Patriots’ Daniel Foster. Heritage was unable to convert the turnover into points, however, as Reid fumbled four plays later on the Tigers’ 4-yard line.

Heritage’s offense found its groove again on its third possession, reaching Tiger territory, but on 3rd-and-5 from the Tigers’ 41-yard line, Sutton threw an interception to Sanders. Sanders returned the ball to the Patriots’ end zone, but was called back to the 25-yard line.

The Patriots’ defense held after the turnover, forcing a turnover-on-downs after Farrar was unable to connect with a receiver on 4th-and-10 from just outside Heritage’s red zone.

Tucker broke the deadlocked contest with 3:44 to go in the first half, driving the ball to the Patriots’ 4-yard line. Farrar connected with tight end Jonathan Ledbetter for a 4-yard touchdown pass over the middle, and the Tigers’ Eric Weber added the extra point to give Tucker a 14-7 advantage.

The Tigers used the muddy field conditions to their advantage on the ensuing kickoff, as Heritage’s Anthony Stanley was unable to pick up the kick. Stanley muffed the ball twice before the Tigers’ Justin Hughes recovered at the Patriots’ 4-yard line. The turnover did not come back to hurt the Patriots, however, as Farrar fumbled the ball on the Tigers’ next play on Heritage’s 1-yard line.

Heritage recovered the fumble, ending the Tigers’ scoring threat.