Heritage Pulls Out a Win As Game Clock Ticks Down

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2007

Running back Justin Donnelley tried his best to play the part of hero Friday night, returning a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to give Brentsville a four-point lead in the game's closing minutes.

But improbably, Heritage returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for the touchdown to defeat Brentsville, 29-26.

"It yanks the bottom out of you," Tigers Coach Dean Reedy said. "It was a hard one, but they'll be resilient. They'll come back to it."

Despite falling behind, 6-0, early in the game, Brentsville was confident in the fourth quarter, up 14 points. Even after giving up what should have been the game-tying touchdown, the Tigers blocked the extra point and led by one point.

After Heritage jumped ahead on kicker Josh Thiel's 37-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the game, Donnelley (52 yards, 19 carries) had put the Tigers up in dramatic fashion, 26-22.

The last thing in Reedy's mind was giving up a touchdown on the ensuing return.

"What are the odds of having back-to-back kickoff returns?" Reedy asked. "It's six of one, half-dozen of the other. Everyone will second-guess you. If I had kicked it short and given them good field position, I think our chances are better of playing defense on their end of the field then on ours."

The Tigers first took the lead after Heritage was forced back by a poor snap and an intentional grounding penalty. Faced with fourth and 50 from its 10-yard line, the Pride tried to punt but was blocked by Brentsville defensive lineman Cameron Romine, who recovered the ball at the 3 that set up Donnelley's first score.

Then after Heritage muffed a punt, three straight Donnelley runs gave the Tigers a 13-6 lead.

In the third quarter, Brentsville extended the lead to 20-6 on quarterback P.J. Borko's only completion, a 52-yard strike to wide receiver Quiydar Murphy.

But Heritage came charging back in the fourth quarter behind a stout defense and a spread offense.

The Pride drove 62 yards to set up running back Nick Cadwell's one-yard touchdown plunge that cut the deficit to seven. Then a fumbled punt gave Heritage the ball at the 20-yard line, and quarterback Zach Gordon found T.J. McPhaul on what seemed to be the game-tying touchdown. But Brentsville blocked the extra point to remain one point ahead.

"They had a pretty good matchup with us in the secondary," Reedy said of Heritage's comeback. "That's one of the downsides to a spread offense. They take advantage of some of the angles."

Donnelley then took the kickoff return straight up the middle, never getting touched along the way, to give Brentsville the lead.

But seconds later, the roaring crowd was quieted by Heritage's special-teams magic. After the next kick to the 40-yard line, Brentsville's offense was unable to muster anything, and Heritage escaped with the win.

"The stats don't really match up, but it's what that says up there that matters," Reedy said, pointing to the scoreboard. "I never question [the team's] effort by [any] means, and it was a tough one, and now we need to pick ourselves up and come back next week."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company