Coaches talk until they're blue in the face about trust, so when Heritage High School football coach Tim James' players asked for his in the waning moments of Friday night's game at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, he felt obliged.
The decision led to a blocked punt and the eventual winning field goal with 34 seconds to play in a 22-15 Heritage win. The Generals (2-0) scored on an interception return with no time remaining for the extra cushion.
"We were debating on whether to go after the punt, and I had actually made the decision to return it," James recalled. "The kids just looked at me and one of them said, 'Come on, Coach, believe in us.' Well, I did and they got it and I couldn't be prouder."
The Warriors (0-2) had taken a 15-13 lead on Kyle Trego's 41-yard field goal with 4:58 to play, then recovered a Heritage fumble with 3:29 left at the LFO 35. However, three short runs and two penalties (two of 10 in the game) set up a fourth-and-long at the LFO 24.
After a timeout, Heritage's Seth Hickman blocked the punt, with the ball going out of bounds at the LFO 11 with just over a minute to play. Following three short runs, Heritage all-star kicker Dustin Lewis calmly hit a 24-yard field goal with 34 seconds to play. Heritage's Jacob Carter scored on a 30-yard interception return as the final horn sounded.
"We knew we were in a battle with LFO," James said. "They gave us all we wanted for four quarters in a battle of the neighborhood. I'm proud of our kids, though. They hung in there and found a way. Hopefully that's a lesson for us, but hat's off to [LFO] Coach [Todd] Windham. They played their tails off tonight."
LFO took a 12-7 lead on Tim Travis' 39-yard flanker reverse pass to Joshua McNabb on the first half's final play. McNabb tipped the ball at the 8, reached back and hauled it in before breaking a tackle at the 5 and scoring as the LFO sideline erupted.
With senior quarterback Jake Sampson out with a shoulder injury, the Generals began the second half by giving the Warriors a huge dose of tailback Ethan Thompson. The senior ran the ball 10 times on a 13-play, 52-yard drive, twice converting on fourth-and-short situations before scoring from 6 yards out and a 13-12 lead.
"With our quarterback out, everybody said, 'It's on you,' and I was glad to take over," said Thompson, who finished with 106 yards on 26 carries. "There was a lot of emotion out there. I'm just glad we were able to pull it out."
The Warriors, behind the hard running of Bubba Cruz (132 yards on 19 carries) and Pooh Harden (11 for 53), needed seven plays midway through the final quarter, all on the ground, to set up Trego's field goal. The line drive kick against a suddenly stiff wind hit the crossbar before falling over, the first of several big late plays.