HEATH — As the ball was knocked out of Bailey Hayden’s hands at the goal-line, Elijah Senior knew what he had to do.
Licking Valley was threatening to cut into Heath’s 13-3 lead early in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs were so close to ending a long losing streak to Valley they could taste it.
There was a mad scramble for the football. As the officials un-piled everyone, there was Senior on the bottom with the ball. Heath’s only senior starter on the line was also the last to ring the victory bell, as the Bulldogs celebrated a 20-3 Licking County League crossover win at Swank Field, their first victory against the Panthers since 1990. The teams didn’t play each other for several years.
“Aric (Adams) is a senior like me, and he was right down there with me,” Senior said. “Someone knocked my helmet off and I wasn’t sure I had the ball, but once I did, I wasn’t giving it up.”
Junior quarterback Aaron Latiolais, who put Heath on his back and carried it to the tune of 207 yards on 38 carries with three touchdowns, said he wasn’t sure if Senior even had it at first. “But I knew he was going to fight for it,” he said. “He’s our leader, and it’s something he’ll never forget, and we’ll never forget.”
Valley coach Randy Baughman said the play was representative of Heath’s aggressiveness throughout the game.
“When you’re aggressive, good things happen,” he said. “They were more physical than us on both sides of the ball.”
The Bulldogs (3-1) ate seven minutes off the first-quarter clock with a 74-yard, 13-play drive capped by a 1-yard TD keeper by Latiolais. All but one of the plays was on the ground.
“It set the tone, and I overheard some of the Valley guys saying, ‘come on, they’re kicking our butts up here,'” Latiolais said.
Gunnar Carpenter turned a sideline pass from Zack Hatfield into a 44-yard gain, setting up Elijah Brechbill’s 33-yard second-quarter field goal that pulled the Panthers (2-2) within 6-3 early in the second. But it was their last score of the night.
Latiolais immediately broke loose on a 35-yard run, with 15 yards tacked on for a facemask penalty. He later scored on a 5-yard run and Tayte Duncan’s kick pushed Heath up 13-3 at the break.
Valley couldn’t cash in after recovering a third-quarter fumble at the Heath 48. Or after Hatfield found Brechbill for 31 yards, and Bailey Hayden ran 12 yards to the 1. The Panthers were called for illegal procedure, and the ball was jarred loose from Hayden as he fought to get into the end zone on the next play.
“That was huge that it was recovered in the end zone, because we got it at the 20 instead of the 1,” Heath coach Mark Collier said. “It became obvious to Latch that he was going to carry the load, and ball security was important. He has great balance, great vision, runs hard and our guys believe in him.”
Latiolais carried the last nine times on a 56-yard drive capped by his determined 3-yard TD run with 9.5 seconds left, after Valley stopped the Panthers on downs at the Heath 44.
“It was a super-human effort tonight by their quarterback,” Baughman said.
Last year’s triple-overtime loss at Valley still stuck in the craw of the Bulldogs. “We wanted this win so bad,” Latiolais said. “Last year, we kind of hung our heads all season after that loss.”
“It motivated us the whole off-season, every rep,” Senior said. “Our physicality took over, and they’re a hard team to be physical with.”
Heath held Valley to nine first downs and 197 total yards, Hatfield throwing for 149 yards including five to Carpenter for 59 yards. Ethan Fout had three tackles for loss totaling 15 yards.