CONYERS — After a one-year hiatus, coach Corey Johnson’s Heritage Patriots returned to the postseason on Friday night and found a familiar foe on the opposite sideline in the Coffee County Trojans.
While the Patriots last made the playoffs in 2017, the last time they hosted a postseason game was 2015, and it was those same Trojans who made the trip to Conyers.
However, unlike their most recent forays into the playoffs, this Patriots team entered the opening round with a different major question surrounding them.
After having averaged 32.4 and 34.2 points per game in 2015 and 2016, the 2019 iteration of the Patriots entered the playoffs averaging a mere 14.2 points each time out.
However, momentum was perhaps on the Patriots side after an explosive second half last week against Lakeside-Evans that saw a furious Heritage rally secure their second place finish in the region and a game at home in Conyers as opposed to traveling to Valdosta for their opening round game.
The momentum was short-lived, though as the offense was unable to make a first down by any means Friday night. The reliable Patriot defense was challenged by a balanced and skilled Trojans attack unlike any the Patriots had seen during region play and rolled past the Patriots 60-0.
Coffee took the ball to start the game and quickly struck first. A brief scoring drive of five plays culminated with quarterback A.J. Wilkerson scampering in from nine yards out.
Neither offense mustered anything on their next two possessions, but after Heritage failed to produce any offense on their second drive of the game, Coffee began to seize control of the contest.
Heritage’s defense, which all year has been able to create havoc and negative plays, was unable to do the same against the Trojan attack.
It took just two plays into the second quarter for the lead to expand as Wilkerson connected to Trent Davis on a 20 yard scoring strike towards the right corner of the end zone.
On the ensuing point after, Heritage committed a leaping infraction, a penalty that would have game-changing ramifications. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, and blessed with no longer kicking from their own 40, Coffee went for the onside kick.
Heritage was caught completely off guard, the Trojans recovered, and the rout was on.
On the very next play, Wilkerson found Kenneth Davis down the right side all the way down to the 1-yard line. This set up Coffee to use their jumbo package and have defensive lineman-running back Josiah Killiebrew score from one yard out.
Following yet another Heritage penalty on a point after attempt, Coffee went for two and Killiebrew leapt over the defensive line to convert and make it 22-0.
Heritage again failed to gain a first down and Coffee answered with yet another two-play scoring drive. This time a 19-yard run by exciting sophomore A.J. Franklin put the Trojans on the scoreboard.
After yet another three-and-out by Heritage, Wilkerson found Jaylen Suggs for a 36-yard touchdown pass and following the point after, it was 36-0 in favor of Coffee.
Heritage finally got the ball across midfield on their next drive, thanks to two defensive penalties, but following a sack on third down, were forced to punt again from their own side of the 50.
With the ball again, Coffee’s offense went right back to putting up points as Jamal Paulk slithered through the Patriots defense on a 36-yard touchdown run that helped put Coffee up by a 43-0 halftime score.
With a running clock in play, the second half didn’t start any better for Heritage, who received the opening kick of the second half. Coffee’s Malachi Williams recovered a Heritage fumble on the opening drive and rumbled in for the first touchdown of the second half to give the Trojans a 50-0 lead.
Coffee would add a field goal to end the third quarter and another touchdown in the fourth quarter, finishing the game at 60-0.
It was a rough night for Heritage, but for the seniors, they got to play a home playoff game before their careers were over.
“That was big for the seniors, obviously”, Coach Johnson said after the game. “We came off a struggling season. To be able to muster ourselves up and be able to get a home playoff game is big.”
As for the bright future of this program and key rising seniors like defensive stalwarts Courtney McBride and Kobe Friend, as well as the backfield duo of Jan’i Belcher and quarterback Derrick Thomas, it was a valuable learning experience to get to compete on this stage against a team of Coffee’s caliber.
“Look over at that team over there," Johnson said of the victors. “you can tell they’ve been in the weight room. With us being as young as we are, to get that taste of playoff experience, it’s big”.
Johnson also cited the previous playoff loss to Coffee in 2015 and the springboard it gave his team for the 2016 season.
“I was able to do that a couple years ago here, unfortunately the same Coffee team, they came in and beat us”, Johnson recollected. “The next year we actually had an opportunity to go farther than we did that first year. And I think that was based off we’ve been here before, we’ve been in the big game, we know what it takes and I think that’s going to play big for us next year."