CUNNINGHAM – The White House Heritage football team is back in the TSSAA playoffs for the first time since 2015.
After going 1-19 over the last two seasons, the Patriots (7-3, 3-3 Region 5-4A) continued their turnaround with a 20-13 victory over Montgomery Central on Friday. Heritage will travel to Lexington (5-5) for the first round on Friday, Nov. 8.
“The kids have worked hard,” Heritage coach Stetson Dickerson said. “Even last year when it wasn’t going our way, they still worked hard. I told them if they kept working, they would have a shot to do something special for this community. It’s just fun to see that come full circle.”
Senior Trenton Tuttle provided all three Heritage touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a 43-yard fumble return with 5:57 remaining. He also caught touchdowns of 17 and 70 yards from quarterback Will Wilson in the first quarter.
“Someone told me last week that I wasn’t the star player I was the first five weeks or whatever,” Tuttle said. “That kind of made me kick it in a little bit.”
Montgomery Central’s season came to an end with back-to-back losses to White House and White House Heritage. The Indians finished 7-3 overall and 3-3 in Region 5-4A.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had anything tougher to stomach, to be honest,” Montgomery Central coach Jeff Tomlinson said. “In 21 years of coaching, I’ve never had a team go 7-3 and miss the playoffs.”
The Patriots had success exploiting Montgomery Central’s secondary in the first quarter. Wilson hit Tuttle for a 17-yard touchdown on the Patriots’ first possession of the game. On their next drive, Wilson found Tuttle for a short pass, and the tight end took it 70 yards to the end zone.
“Tuttle is good matchup for us every week,” Dickerson said. “To get him involved early really took the pressure off everyone else. And Will made some good decisions.”
Heritage’s passing attack proved to be the difference. Wilson finished 5-of-10 passing for 142 yards. Montgomery Central QB Logan Sykes was just 2-of-6 for eight yards.
“Our style of football is not (about) scoring quick,” Tomlinson said. “We’re not built that way. When we get behind, we’re not in a good situation.”
Montgomery Central senior Lakendriez Sanders scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to cut Heritage’s lead to 13-7 at the end of the first. But after that, Heritage limited the Indians to two field goals.
Senior kicker Michael Lobdell made a 27-yard attempt just before the half and tied the game at 13 with a 22-yard make at the start of the fourth quarter.
Heritage lost the ball when Wilson fumbled an exchange on a fake sweep with 6:49 remaining. But two plays later, Tuttle stripped Montgomery Central tailback Casen Cunningham, picked up the loose ball and took it to the house.
“Everything got kind of got blurry,” Tuttle said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh God, this is it.’ That gave us the lead and kind of sealed the game.”
Heritage then forced Montgomery Central to punt and Parker Deaton ran out the final minutes with several first down runs. Deaton finished with 103 yards on 21 carries.
“When I looked at the scoreboard, there was four minutes left,” Deaton said. “I thought there was no way we were going to burn all that clock. But we did. We’ve been fighting all year. I felt like it was just another day at the office.”
Montgomery Central combined to rush for 227 yards on 41 attempts. Sanders still managed 140 yards, but Heritage limited him and the Indians to just one touchdown.
“He’s the guy we rally around,” Tomlinson said of Sanders. “Everywhere he goes, everyone else goes. Everybody trusts him and everyone believes in him. He’s going to be missed.”
Heritage won its final three games to ensure its first winning record since 2015. Following a crushing 43-42 overtime loss to Greenbrier on Sept. 20, the Patriots beat Portland, White House and Montgomery Central to salvage their region record.
Deaton and Tuttle agreed that the team feels ready for the playoffs because they have been in must-win situations for several weeks. Lexington has dropped two of its last three contests but blew out Chester County 40-0 on Friday.
“Being 7-3 is an amazing feeling,” Tuttle said. “Especially after only winning one game my first two years at Heritage. Going to the playoffs was everybody’s goal, and we’re here. We’re going to take it one game at a time and try to make a run.”