Heritage Hills (12-1) advanced to face No.5 Tri-West in the semistate.
Mistake-free football is tough to beat, and it’s a perfect formula to win tournament games. Heritage Hills proved that emphatically on Friday night.
The No.6 Patriots, one of the top defensive teams in the state, forced five turnovers and made No. 15 Charlestown pay for them with a 28-7 victory in the Class 3-A regional on Friday night.
Heritage Hills (12-1) advanced to face No.5 Tri-West in the semistate. The Pirates finished 10-3, falling short of their first regional triumph since 1989. They simply made too makes mistakes to earn it, and Heritage Hills – with no turnovers, no penalties, and only one missed tackle away from a shutout – was close to perfection in frigid conditions.
“You lose the turnover battle in championship games, you most likely get beat,” Charlestown coach Darin Ward said.
Heritage Hills junior Kenton Crews was the star on a team that lacks star power and the gaudy statsictics of a team this deep in the state tournament. Crews scored two touchdowns and picked off two passes as the one-man difference maker. Crews finished with a modest 63 rushing yards – in fact most of the Pats’ numbers were not eye-catching.
Except for the turnovers. Those were noticeable. And lethal.
“The defense played great,” Heritage Hills coach Todd Wilkerson said. “They had us on our heels a couple of times, but our kids did a good job of making stops when they had to. It was an unbelievable job. Those are big picks.”
Charlestown was guilty of the first mistake. A high snap over the head of punter Eli Daniel gave the Patriots their first possession on the Charlestown 10, and Kenton Crews scored on third down from the 1 for the first Heritage Hills touchdown.
Heritage Hills took advantage of a short field to score again, marching 49 yards unhindered on its second drive. The Patriots converted a key third down with a 10-yard pass from Logan Wilkerson to Caleb Sabelhaus, and Crews crashed over from 3 yards for a 14-0 lead.
“You can’t spot anybody, a good football team, a touchdown,” Ward said. “I thought we battled back and gave ourselves some opportunities to get back in the ballgame, we just couldn’t take advantage of it.”
Charlestown changed momentum with a lightning-strike score. Punt returner Tate Boley bobbled the ball while fielding a kick and had to retreat to recover it. He veered right and ran into tacklers, but he spun away from two, exploded into open space and cut back past the last defender for a 54-yard touchdown return with 4:31 left in the first half.
The Pirates allowed two other scoring chances to slide aside. The first, immediately following the second Heritage Hills score, was a 15-play march that included two fourth-down conversions. But a penalty near the goal line derailed the drive, and Tristan Chester’s pass on fourth down sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
The second was their final push of the half. Executing the two-minute offense, Chester floated a pass over the middle to huge tight end Hunter Crace, who cradled the catch for 31 yards. Antonyo Gaddie ripped off 21 yards to move the Pirates near the red zone, but another pre-snap penalty and a quarterback sack stalled and ultimately squelched the opportunity.
“That’s the big difference, some miscues and penalties, some discipline within ourselves,” Ward said.
The first interception of Chester was the beginning of the end. Crews returned it 30 yards to set up another drive from midfield, and he punched home the touchdown for a 21-7 lead with 5:16 left in the third.
The final blow was the third pick. Two plays later, Heritage Hills quarterback Logan Wilkerson (the coach’s nephew) lofted a 70-yard touchdown strike to receiver Sam Collins, cementing the Patriots ninth regional title and first since 2007.
“That’s a credit to them,” Ward said. “They’re a good football team. They lay on their defense and look for their opponents to make mistakes. That was the case tonight.”
Gaddie finished with 132 rushing yards. Chester was 9 of 20 with the three thefts for 101 yards.
Heritage Hills 14 0 7 7 – 28
Charlestown 0 7 0 0 – 7
HH – Kenton Crews, 1 run (Colin Curtis kick), 8:43; HH – Crews, 3 run (Curtis kick), 1:49; Char – Tate Boley, 54 punt return (Jose Arredondo kick), 4:31; HH – Crews, 2 run (Curtis kick), 5:q16; HH – Sam Collins, 70 pass from Logan Wilkerson (Curtis kick), 5:40