Heritage junior running back Devon Rivers had already carried the ball 30 times on a Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the high 90s. But with the game on the line in triple overtime, it made sense that everyone in the stadium was expecting him to touch the ball at least a couple more times.
Instead, the Patriots slipped an inside handoff to senior fullback Tanner Smylie, who raced through the Granada defense for the go-ahead, 14-yard touchdown. The Heritage staff then used Rivers as a decoy once again on the two-point conversion, tossing the ball to him before he flipped it to junior Jeremiah Ruffin on a run-pass option reverse, and Ruffin carried the ball untouched into the end zone for an eight-point lead.
As they did all game, the host Matadors (0-2) did not go down without a fight, reaching the end zone on their possession in the third overtime. Needing the two-point conversion to tie and extend the game even further, however, Granada saw its attempt dashed when Heritage junior linebacker Brock Lombardi blitzed through the line and rushed the pass attempt to cause an incompletion and secure a wild 36-34 victory for the Patriots (1-1).
“We knew our young team had to grow up fast, but we also knew our returners had to lead us,” said Heritage coach Dave Fogelstrom. “Devon had a great game, but Tanner has been a two-way starter for us so we gave him a shot knowing they would be keying on Devon. Jeremiah is another returner, so we trusted him with the ball and he made the right decision to run it in.”
Making the final big play of the game, Lombardi epitomized the effort of a Heritage team, which lost 21 of 24 starters from its team that went 4-2 in the spring. The junior was banged up on multiple occasions, but didn’t let it stop him from finishing the game strong. He also had the game-tying score in the fourth quarter for the Patriots, which ultimately forced overtime.
“(Defensive coordinator) Arnold knew they were going to pass on the two-point conversion, so he sent Brock to break it up,” Fogelstrom said. “(Lombardi) is one tough, strong kid who we knew would give us everything he had to get there”
The game was back-and-forth from the beginning. Heritage struck first when Rivers took a screen pass from Jacob Wasso and raced 36 yards for the score. The extra point was wide right, allowing Granada to take a 7-6 lead following a methodical 70-yard drive on its next possession. Heritage scored the next 15 points to take a 21-7 advantage, as Rivers dashed in from 10 yards out and junior Koen Wolfe recovered a bad snap on a punt in the end zone.
From there, Granada scored the next 21 points, taking a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter using time-consuming drives on the ground to wear down the Patriots’ defense and keep the ball away from Rivers and the Heritage offense. Three turnovers did not help the Heritage cause during the game.
The Patriots tied the game with 6:55 remaining in regulation when Wasso connected with Lombardi on a play-action pass and Lombardi broke through two defenders to reach the end zone. Heritage then recovered an onside kick, with Rivers diving on the loose ball, but the potential game-winning drive ended with an interception inside the five-yard line.
The first two overtimes ended with a combined four missed field goals before both teams found the end zone in the third sequence, and the Heritage defense stood tall for the final play.
Rivers finished the game with 30 carries for 169 yards, not including a 73-yard dash that was called back. In addition to the game-winning touchdown, Smylie added a key interception during the final quarter.
Heritage next faces Clovis East on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Liberty in the Honor Bowl.