A party 10 years in the making will finally be held at Jeff Sims Field next Friday night as the Heritage Generals will play host to the Troup Tigers in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
It will mark the first-ever home playoff game for the Navy-and-Red and it comes on the heels of a 49-21 victory over Pickens Friday night in cool, damp, foggy Boynton.
A 1-yard sneak by Blake Bryan just over two minutes into the game was all the points either team could muster in the first quarter. But with 5:22 left before halftime, Ryan Carter picked off a halfback pass from C.J. Streicher and returned it 80 yards to boost the Generals' lead to 14-0.
After forcing a punt, Heritage (9-1) went 66 yards in just four plays, aided by a 15-yard penalty on the Dragons. Jeffery Curtis capped the quick drive with bruising 9-yard TD run to make it 21-0 with 3:37 left in the opening half.
Pickens (5-5) would finally get on the board with 1:09 left in the half Jacob Brumby heaved one up for Zach Goss, who made the catch and completed the 55-yard scoring strike. But Bryan would hit Luke Grant for a 25-yard gain before Grant made a superb catch on a 35-yard TD pass one play later to give Heritage a 28-7 lead at the break.
Strreicher would get the Dragons back on the board with 5:46 left in the third quarter, ducking his head and driving for a 1-yard plunge. Heritage would give the ball right back three plays into their next possession as Josh Cain picked off a severely underthrown ball of the hands of Bryan and returned it to the Generals' 21-yard line.
But on fourth-and-three from the Heritage 14, Curtis came up with perhaps the biggest play of the night, slinging down speedy running back Robert Davis in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. Curtis would carry the ball five times on the ensuing march, including a tackle-breaking 30-yard gallop before crashing in from the 1 to add to the lead and give the home team momentum for good.
The Generals would tack on two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one on a 1-yard run by Bryan and the final coming on a 13-yard keeper by freshman quarterback Nick Hanson with 1:48 to play. Cain would also get into the endzone on a 28-yard pass from Brumby, but the Dragons' final drive ended at the Heritage 11 as time expired.
Heritage finished with 444 yards split evenly between rushing and receiving. Curtis had exactly half of the Generals' 222 on the ground with 111 yards on 13 carries. Bryan was 11-for-13 for 142 yards in the first half and finished 222 yards on 17-of-24 passing.
Grant had a huge night with 140 yards on nine carries, including a pair of one-handed grabs. Ryan Carter had 47 yards receiving and 39 on the ground, thrilling fans and teammates alike with an incredible leaping catch early in the fourth quarter. Kicker Ryan Craft made good on all seven of his extra point attempts.
Pickens finished with 384 yards of offense. Brumby, ironically enough, also threw for 222 on 14-of-25 attempts. Cain led the way with 74 yards on five rushes, while Goss had 61 yards on just two catches before suffering what appeared to be a leg injury midway through the fourth quarter.
Brumby went 14-of-25, while Davis ran 16 times for 91 tough yards.
Pickens must now regroup quickly as they will join Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield for a three-team, mini-game playoff on Monday at North Murray High School to determine the final two playoff teams from Region 6. Ridgeland (10-0) will be the No. 1 seed from the region.
Read more in Wednesday's edition of the Catoosa County News.