The Heritage Patriots were a mere two inches away from the end of the season, but thanks to a fierce hit they overcame those two inches, two overtimes and more in their first playoff win since 2004.
The Patriots forced a fumble on second-and-goal from the two-inch mark with Rome threatening to win the game in the second overtime to win 13-10 at Evans Memorial Stadium on Friday.
"It shows that you don't ever give up," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. "They just created a turnover and got the victory. In two inches they snatched the victory away from them."
Heritage (10-1) started the second overtime with the ball and came away with a three points thanks to Harrison Kulp's 25-yard field goal.
The Wolves (7-4) then put up a big play as Bo Tucker threw a 14-yard pass to Veshawn Bell to set up a goal-line situation. On the next play, Rome handed off to the game's leading rusher, Jamie Cooper, who ran toward the middle of his offensive line.
However, Heritage's Chase Alford was also running toward the middle of the Rome offensive line, and blasted through it.
Alford crashed into Cooper and the ball came lose on the 3-yard line and Ben Kennedy fell on it.
"I just struck right in," Alford said. "I can't even describe how I feel. It feels amazing. Our team has a lot of heart."
Even with his coaches and teammates crashing onto the field after Kennedy's fumble recover, Jamaal Lane remained crouched on the field, displaying that heart.
Holding back tears, the senior relished not only the win but also the way his teammates stuck up for one another.
With Heritage leading 10-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a fourth-and-7 from their own 37-yard line. Frazier, who had noticed a coverage lapse on the Wolves' special teams while watching film decided to fake the punt.
Lane received the snap and threw an errant pass into the hands of Rome's Jordan McLure, who ran it the 37 yards into the end zone and tied it up with 9:46 to play.
"I messed up, and we came back from it," Lane said. "My teammates did it with me. They told me to let it go and play. We fought back."
The Patriots held on for the next nine minutes, including forcing a punt by Rome from Heritage's 34-yard line to send it to overtime.
In the first overtime period, Rome got the ball first, and after gaining two yards on the first play was tackled for a loss of 7 yards and another loss of 3 yards. Tucker's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Heritage then got the ball and couldn't get anything going as Kulp took the field for a 35-yard field goal attempt that flew well left.
It was Kulp's second attempt of the game after his first was good for 26 yards and a 3-0 Heritage lead four seconds into the second quarter.
The Patriots' go ahead points came after Ryan Watson had one of his three sacks on Barton. Barton fumbled the ball on the hit and CJ Stone recovered it. It was one of three fumbles lost by the Wolves, including two in the first half.The Patriots also had two turnovers in the first half, both on interceptions, but Rome was unable to capitalize.
In the second half both teams moved the ball better, including Heritage, which scored first. Dominic Craft broke a 6-yard TD run early in the third to put the Patriots up by a score. As time was winding down in the third quarter the Wolves got on the board on Justin VanRipper's 29-yard field goal.
Heritage will now host its first-ever second round playoff home game against Ware County on Friday.
"Based on what I know about their coach - he used to be at Walton - they're a very multiple offense," said Fraizer. "They have a very big offensive line and three really good running backs. I think defensively I think they're not very big but very quick and athletic."