CONYERS — With Heritage holding an 18-0 advantage over Salem just three minutes into the third quarter, the game was called do to non-football related incidents.
A security threat forced the two Rockdale County rivals to end the game abruptly, but Heritage head coach Corey Johnson didn't let that take away from his team's shortened victory.
"Our defense played well," Johnson said. "We had a goal line stand and we scored in the second half. That was something that we didn't do all of last year. The kids played hard, we ran to the ball and ran the ball well. We can take some things away from this game."
The Patriots (1-0) nearly drew first blood on their second drive of night after running back Niakko Hickmon got things started with an 18-yard rush down to the Seminole 46-yard line.
Starting quarterback Miles Young followed with a 26-yard run of his own, but the drive was later stalled after a fumble and subsequent recovery by the Seminole defense at the 9-yard line.
The Seminoles were unable to translate the turnover into points and later fumbled on a reception from Daniel Scott to Xavier Eutsey on their own 39-yard line. Eutsey caught a swing pass from Scott before receiving a hit from Heritage’s Omari Austin, who forced the fumble.
Eight plays later, it was the Patriots who were celebrating with the games’ first touchdown.
After taking over inside Seminole territory, the Patriots were able to punch it in on a Nick Beck nine-yard reception in the middle of the end zone on third-and-goal from quarterback Derrick Thomas. The Patriots were backed up as far as the 14-yard line on first-and-goal before converting the score.
A blocked extra point from Salem’s Jamel Goulbourne kept the score at 6-0 with 1:09 remaining in the first quarter.
With just under five remaining before halftime and momentum in favor of the Patriots, a much-needed spark for the Seminoles was summoned, thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty against Heritage’s punting unit. The late hit sparked the Seminoles offense, who took over at the Patriots 38-yard line with 4:32 remaining.
Sophomore running back Willis Sheppard promptly rushed for 12 yards on their opening play from scrimmage and later covered a third-and-3 on a 14-yard run out of the wildcat.
Setting up shop at the Heritage’s 6-yard line, the Seminoles were unable to score after reaching as close as the 2-yard line before penalties derailed them. The Seminoles elected to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-12, but failed after Sheppard was cut down after a short four-yard gain.
After swapping out quarterbacks Thomas trotted back out for the Patriots and wasted little time moving the Patriots down the field. The junior rushed for 13 yards on his first touch of the game and later connected with junior Jan’i Belcher on a 29-yard catch-and-run down to the Seminole 29-yard line.
On the very next play, the Patriots were celebrating in the end zone again after a quick swing pass to junior wide receiver Caleb Clements went the distance. Clements raced past the Seminole defense and scored from 29 yards out to extend the lead to 12-0 with 1:58 remaining in the first half.
After forcing a quick three-and-out to start the third quarter, the Patriots added to their lead again after Thomas worked the offense into the end zone on just two plays. A Thomas 11-yard completion to Belcher set up a 34-yard catch-and-run score from Jarvis Manuel on the next play from scrimmage.
Manuel caught the pass near the 17-yard line on a back shoulder fade route before jogging into the end zone with the Patriots’ third touchdown of the night.
With the Seminoles set to take the field on the ensuing possession, a Sheppard 8-yard run on first down was the final play of the game before it was made official.
Thomas unofficially finished the game with 124 yards on 6 of 9 passing and threw three touchdowns. Belcher led the team in receiving with 52 yards, all on passes from Thomas.
"He's so poised," Johnson said of Thomas. "He's always been that way. Even last year when we had him on defense, nothing bothered him. He does not get rattled. I had no problem when he went in the game knowing that he was going to do what he did."
Hickmon was the leading rusher for the Patriots with 42 yards on four carries.
For the Seminoles, Scott was held to just 25 yards passing on four completions. Sheppard rushed for 52 yards on eight carries.
"1-0 is great," Johnson said. "I told our guys yesterday and today that the last time we were on a football field, we lost. The only way to get away from that is to come out and get a win. We came out and were up 18-0 and our defense showed no signs of slowing down. We felt really good about this game."
SHS 0 0 0
HHS 6 6 6
HHS: Nick Beck 8 pass from Derrick Thomas (1:09, blocked PAT)
HHS: Caleb Clements 29 pass from Thomas (1:58, blocked PAT)
HHS: Jarvis Manuel 34 pass from Thomas (Missed PAT)