PALM BAY – In the game of football, it never hurts to have a little speed in your back pocket.
Heritage pulled out more than Sebastian River could handle on Friday, and the Panthers took sole possession of first place in District 14-6A by a 28-15 score with two games to go.
“We called this a playoff game and next week a championship game,” Heritage coach Mark Ainsley said. “I haven’t looked at all the math, but we thought this probably would pretty much put us in the playoffs.”
It pretty much did, but not without some work ahead. The Panthers have district games at Jensen Beach (2-1 in 14-6A), coming Friday, and home against Bayside (0-3), a week later.
Heritage had to win without a pair of starting offensive linemen on Friday and struggled much of the night to move the ball.
“We moved kids around. We kind of had a hodge-podge offensive line,” Ainsley said. “Everyone had to play both ways.”
Just when it looked like the Panthers might be in trouble, one of those two-way players showed what speed can do. Josh Gaines broke free on the visitor sideline for a 64-yard touchdown run and a 21-13 Heritage lead at 8:17 of the third period.
A shanked Sharks punt set up another big moment. On the first play of the fourth quarter, quarterback Daeshawn Mills kept the ball around the right side of the line and ran 43 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Panthers a 15-point cushion with 11:49 to play.
Heritage scored on a pair of splash plays in the first quarter. Darrian Abney picked up a punt kicked into the backs of the Sebastian River punter’s own blockers. Abney and a teammate had been pushing the blockers backward, and he followed the bouncing ball and carried it the final 42 yards to the end zone.
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Less than a minute later, Davonte Bartley forced a fumble and recovered it at the Sharks 30. On the next play, Mills ran into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers’ own mistake nearly tied the game but for a missed PAT. After a long Sebastian River drive cut the lead to a touchdown, a fumbled handoff gave the Sharks the ball at the Heritage 20. Ray Motherhead bulled in on the next play.
“We knew their offense was huge and we had to swarm to the ball,” said Gaines, one of those Panthers playing both ways. “There weren’t going to be a lot of solo tackles tonight.”
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High school sports | floridatoday.com/sports/high-school-sports/
Heritage 28, Sebastian River 15
Sebastian River 7 6 0 2 — 15
Heritage 14 0 7 7 — 28
HOW THEY SCORED
H — Darrian Wright 42 blocked punt return (Marcelo Huete kick), 9:16.
H — Daeshawn Mills 32 run (Marcelo Huete kick), 8:00.
SR — Anthony Parks 1 run (Andres Magana kick), 4:19.
SR — Ray Mothershead 20 run (kick failed), 10:55.
H — Josh Gaines 64 run (Marcelo Huete kick), 8:28.
H — Daeshawn Mills 43 run (Marcelo Huete kick), 11:49.
SR — Safety, ball covered in end zone, 3:06.
Rushing: SR — Parks 14-61, Motherhead 12-43, Jaylen Norris 7-18, Danuel Oscar 4-5, Durrell Simmons 3-4, Jeremy Cummings 1-(-1); H — Gaines 7-51, Mills 11-46, Lasedrick King 6-14, Davonte Bartley 2-6. Passing: SR — Tyler Gautier 4-8-0 37, Parks 0-0-0 0; H — Mills 2-5-0 21. Receiving: SR — Motherhead 2-26, Cummings 1-8, Matt Fling 1-3; H — Lawerence Santos-Simmons 1-11, Willie Gaines 1-10.