Leesburg, Va. — With just over a minute to play, trailing 27-26, the Heritage High School football team knew they needed a big play if they wanted to upset rival Tuscarora in Leesburg.
Facing 3rd-and-19 from the Tuscarora 45, Heritage senior quarterback Braden Smith dropped back and threw a strike down the sideline to senior receiver Junior Darko, who dove towards the pylon, across the goal line, and into the endzone as the Pride took the lead, 32-27.
“For him to make that play, it’s spectacular,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of him.”
But the game wasn’t over quite yet as the Huskies took over with a minute to play and timeouts at their disposal.
Facing 4th-and-11 from their own 24 yard line, Tuscarora senior quarterback Sonny Mannino tossed a ball over the middle of the field, where senior running back Bryce Duke made a highlight reel catch in triple coverage at the Heritage 36.
On the next play, Mannino hit junior tight end JC Witchko for a 12-yard gain as the Huskies were in striking distance.
Two plays later, with 16 seconds to play and 20 yards separating them and a comeback win, Mannino was looking for his No. 1 target Duke when Heritage senior defensive back Jonathan Shea jumped the route and made his second interception of the night, sealing the upset win for the Pride, 32-27, on September 17 in Leesburg.
“We just did everything we could. It was a dogfight for four quarters,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to get back to Heritage to celebrate.”
Dating back to 2012, Tuscarora has dominated the last five matchups between the rival schools, winning by an average score of 43-7. The Pride last defeated the Huskies ten years ago in 2011, 31-28.
But this year’s Heritage team was built different.
With a core group of athletic playmakers, the Pride knew they needed to do two things in order to upset their rivals: limit the Huskies’ running game and make some big plays through the air.
In the first two quarters, the Pride held Duke—a Virginia Tech commit—to just 88 yards on 17 carries and a single touchdown, setting up a one-score game heading into the second half.
Just three minutes into the third quarter, Smith hit senior receiver Kyle Alt with a 22-yard touchdown pass to tie things up at 7-7.
Then late in the third quarter, Smith once again connected with Alt, this time for a 34-yard touchdown pass, marking the Pride’s first lead of the game.
“When you have athletes, you have to let them get the ball in space and that was our whole game plan,” Heritage head coach Joe Cockerham said. “We didn’t want to overthink it: let’s make plays in space, and it worked well for us.”
Unfortunately for the Pride, that lead lasted just 22 seconds as on the first play of the ensuing drive, Duke broke free for a 91-yard touchdown run to tie things up heading into the fourth.
Less than two minutes into the fourth, Duke put the Huskies back on top with a 44-yard touchdown run.
But as the Huskies had done to them late in the third, the Pride had a near immediate response as Smith connected with junior receiver DeShawn Allen with an 82-yard touchdown pass. However, a botched snap on the extra point attempt meant the Pride still trailed, 21-20.
On the first play of Tuscarora’s ensuing drive, and just as he did to seal the win, Shea jumped a route, picked off his first pass of the night, and returned it 24 yards for the score to put Heritage back up, 26-21.
With just over five minutes to play, Duke scored his fourth and final touchdown of the night by way of an 18-yard run. Duke did all he could to keep the Huskies in the game, carrying the ball 32 times for 303 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 3 receptions for 60 yards.
“He’s a dude. There’s no stopping him; it’s all about can you slow him down enough. We felt we were able to do that even knowing he ran for 300 yards,” Cockerham said. “We told our kids all week, they just need to fly around and be more physical and that’s what we did.”
Despite Duke’s best effort, the Pride had one more weapon up their sleeves as Smith—who finished the night throwing 12-for-22 for 247 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception—hit Darko with the go-ahead 45-yard touchdown pass to mark the last lead change of the night before Shea sealed the upset victory with the interception in the game’s waning seconds.
Ten years, five lead changes, and one well-executed game plan later, Heritage (2-0, 4-0) once again defeated its rival Tuscarora (1-1, 3-1). Though, after their post game celebration, the Pride were already looking forward, hoping to keep their undefeated season intact.
“I’m relishing it, but we have to stay hungry and keep going,” Heritage junior lineman Lucas Grant said. “We’re going to have another really strong week of practice to keep getting better.”
|2Q||5:33||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 11-yard TD run (#18 PAT)||0-7|
|3Q||9:04||Heritage||Braden Smith to Kyle Alt 22-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||7-7|
|3Q||0:58||Heritage||Braden Smith to Kyle Alt 34-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||14-7|
|3Q||0:36||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 91-yard TD run (#18 PAT)||14-14|
|4Q||10:02||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 44-yard TD run (#18 PAT)||14-21|
|4Q||9:01||Heritage||Braden Smith to DeShawn Allen 82-yard TD pass (PAT failed)||20-21|
|4Q||8:46||Heritage||Jonathan Shea 24-yard interception return TD (2pt failed)||26-21|
|4Q||5:34||Tuscarora||Bryce Duke 18-yard TD run (2pt failed)||26-27|
|4Q||1:11||Heritage||Braden Smith to Junior Darko 45-yard TD pass (2pt failed)||32-27|