FRISCO – With the season on the line for both Heritage and Little Elm heading into Thursday night’s clash between the two district foes, it was the Coyotes who scratched and clawed their way to victory.
In a showdown that featured three ties and two lead changes, Heritage held on in a wild back-and-forth battle for a 42-35 triumph to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth.
“I would say this was the biggest win of the season,” said Kenneth Gilchrist, Heritage head coach.
“Tonight was a win or you’re out sort of deal, and our boys just came out and played really, really hard.”
Heritage led by as much as 14 heading into the fourth quarter, but a pair of Little Elm scoring drives – including a 37-yard touchdown snag by senior Ryan Watts and a 1-yard score by sophomore running back Jason Jackson – got the Lobos back in it just five minutes into the fourth.
With things knotted up at 35 apiece, Heritage went to its bread and butter that had worked all game long – its potent rushing attack led by senior Cameron Rose.
The Coyotes marched 70 yards down the field on eight plays, seven of which came on the ground, and milked nearly four minutes off of the clock.
At the 3:31 mark of the fourth quarter, it was Shawn Wara who punched in what proved to be the game-winning touchdown for his second of the night after Rose plowed his way for 19 of his team-high 67 yards on the final drive.
“We wanted to put the ball in our workhorse’s hands and our offensive line was doing a great job,” Gilchrist said. “You really don’t have to block too well for Cameron [Rose].”
Rose, who found the end zone twice in the win, wasn’t quite done making impact plays for his team down the stretch.
With one last chance to potentially force overtime with a touchdown, Little Elm got the ball back near midfield with over three minutes left on the clock to do just that.
But things did not go according to plan after three unsuccessful rush attempts set up a massive fourth down for the Lobos. That’s when Little Elm put the ball into the hands of its go-to running back Jason Jackson, who posted a game-high 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but was stuffed well behind the line of scrimmage.
The game-clinching tackle in the backfield for Heritage came from Rose, who was plugged in on that final play at nose tackle in hopes of wreaking havoc at the line.
“When we need to use him we even put him in on defense, Gilchrist said. “He’ll do whatever we ask him to; he’s just a team guy.”
Little Elm actually jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on the Coyotes in the first quarter when sophomore linebacker Keyshon Mills intercepted Heritage sophomore quarterback Easton Swetnam and took it 72 yards to the house.
That ended up being the lone touchdown of the opening frame, but things picked up tremendously in the second stanza when Heritage mustered together a pair of scoring drives to take its first lead at 14-7.
Following a masterful 11-play drive that resulted in a 13-yard pitch and catch into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Josh Joseph, it seemed as if the Lobos grabbed a stranglehold of the momentum with just 20 seconds left until halftime.
However, that would not be the case, as senior Kyle Bradford took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards before he was pushed out at the 1-yard line with just one second remaining on the scoreboard.
Rose powered passed the pylon moments later to give his squad a seven-point advantage, while Bradford wasn’t done yet making monster plays in the special teams department.
“That was not a good job by our kickoff team,” said Kendrick Brown, Little Elm head coach. “That was the swing of the game right there at the half.”
Later in the third quarter with Heritage ahead at 28-21, Bradford did it again with a 93-yard kick return down the sideline and would not be stopped short this time to push the lead back up to double digits.
“Kyle had a great game,” Gilchrist said. “We don’t win this game if he doesn’t make the plays that he made.”
The Coyotes improved to 3-3 in district play with a meeting against No. 1 state-ranked Lone Star looming ahead next week, while Little Elm falls to 2-4 and has a date set with rival The Colony next week.