Leesburg, Va. — For the first time in school history, Heritage High School was prepared to host a home playoff football game. The Pride didn’t let the historic moment get in their way as they laid out their three-pronged plan: contain James Wood senior running back Jaden Ashby, establish their own running game through senior running back Sean Robinson, and get the ball to senior receiver Omari Cornwall in space.
“First home playoff game ever, so we were super excited,” Heritage senior defensive back Kyle Alt said. “But we knew we had a lot of work to do.”
An early injury to Ashby aided the Pride’s defensive quest as the Colonels turned to the air, where Alt grabbed three interceptions to go with a touchdown reception. Then on the offensive side of the ball, Robinson carried the load—rushing for 185 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries—and Cornwall caught 7 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns as the Pride executed on each prong of its game plan to dispatch the Colonels, 32-6, in a VHSL Region 4C quarterfinal on November 12 in Leesburg.
“We knew we had to establish the run game,” Heritage head coach Joe Cockerham said. “They came out in a totally different defense than we prepared for, but our offensive line coach did a great job of making the adjustment and establishing the run, so we could take some shots over the top.”
And shots they took.
Late in the first quarter, Heritage senior quarterback Braden Smith hit Alt with an 8-yard touchdown pass to put the Pride up, 6-0. Then early in the second quarter, facing 3rd-and-6 from their own 15 yard line, Smith hit Cornwall, who blew past the defense for an 85-yard touchdown.
Midway through the third quarter, Cornwall hauled in his second touchdown reception of the night, this one a 35-yard pitch-and-catch, then Smith put the game out of reach when he threw his fourth touchdown pass of the night, and the third to Cornwall, from 40 yards out.
“We sat down after the disappointing loss last week and said ‘what makes us the best offense?,’ and it’s giving the ball to Omari Cornwall,” Cockerham said. “They like to play cover zero, man-to-man across the board, and we knew they didn’t have a dude that could cover Omari. The proof was in the pudding.”
After getting on the board late in the first quarter, the Pride kicked off to Ashby, who—after returning the ball out to the 33 yard line—didn’t get up with an apparent leg injury. Despite trying to have a go to start the second half, Ashby was once again sidelined as the Colonels were left without their star athlete.
“We knew that stopping Ashby on the jet sweep was the key to the game, and, obviously, he had an unfortunate injury,” Cockerham said. “When you take away their best player, it’s not easy for them.”
Without Ashby, the Colonels could not get anything going on the ground, as the Pride held them to just 33 yards on 18 carries.
“They’re a really run-heavy team, and we knew we could match up in the secondary,” Alt said. “Our coaches put together an awesome game plan, and we executed really well.”
No. 2 Heritage will need to execute a similar game plan if they hope to defeat Dulles District No. 4 Tuscarora in a VHSL Region 4C semifinal on November 19 in Leesburg.
In the rivals’ first meeting of the season, Robinson rushed for 104 yards on 27 carries, Smith threw four touchdown passes, and the Pride defense forced three Tuscarora turnovers; however, the Huskies got theirs as well as senior running back Bryce Duke carried the ball 32 times for 303 yards and four touchdowns.
The Week 4 loss to Heritage was a big wake up call for the Huskies, as they put together a 6-1 record down the stretch, outsourcing opponents, 259-75.
“They’re probably the best No. 4 seed in the history of the Virginia state playoffs,” Cockerham said. “It all starts with Bryce Duke; if you can contain him, you have a chance. That’s going to be our primary focus: how do we slow Duke down just a little bit.”
|1Q||4:28||Heritage||Braden Smith to Kyle Alt 8-yard TD pass (PAT failed)||6-0|
|2Q||9:23||Heritage||Braden Smith to Omari Cornwall 85-yard TD pass (2pt failed)||12-0|
|3Q||8:07||Heritage||Braden Smith to Omari Cornwall 35-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||19-0|
|3Q||4:47||James Wood||Jared Neal to Jonathan Brondos 69-yard TD pass (PAT muffed)||19-6|
|4Q||9:07||Heritage||Braden Smith to Omari Cornwall 40-yard TD pass (Jackson Karam PAT)||26-6|
|4Q||7:12||Heritage||Sean Robinson 1-yard TD run (PAT muffed)||32-6|