By Jeff Rancudo
Southeast Whitfield High School football coach Sean Gray has probably never had trouble seeing the big picture.
Team over individual. If one goes down, the next guy steps up.
His players looked well-schooled in those lessons Friday as they fought as a determined unit in a 27-13 comeback victory over Heritage-Catoosa during homecoming festivities at Raider Stadium.
Leading 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders (4-3, 2-1 Sub-region 7B-4A) needed a big defensive stop with Heritage (1-6, 1-2) deep in Southeast territory. Raiders backup free safety Nick Stuard delivered when he intercepted a halfback pass in the end zone thrown by Tanner Nance with 4:46 left in the game.
Shortly after Stuard’s interception, Raiders running back Tyler Brown ripped off a 74-yard touchdown with 2:24 remaining to put the game out of reach. Heritage, which snapped a 15-game losing streak last week by beating LaFayette, held a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter before the Raiders scored the final 15 points of the game.
Emotion, will and intelligence were needed to stop the stubborn Generals, said Gray.
“It was a lot of heart out there for us,” Gray said. “We’ve just got to put four quarters together. If we do, we can beat anybody. Nick played extremely well and Tyler is just a sophomore. We found a honey hole with our power game on offense. Tyler’s a 4.6 (40-yard dash) kid. Once he gets free, he’s gone.”
Stuard saw the trick play developing and knew how to react.
“I’m on the scout team and I see that play (halfback pass) all the time in practice,” Stuard said. “I knew the halfback was going to throw it. You can tell just how he’s carrying the ball. We really had to work hard to get this win.”
Stuard was playing for starter Luis Fraire, who was injured when he tackled the 220-pound Nance earlier in the game.
Heritage took a 7-0 lead with 36.2 seconds left in the first quarter when Nance dashed for a 4-yard touchdown. After the Generals stopped Southeast at the Heritage 1-yard line, the Generals took over only to be sacked for a safety on their first snap of the possession.
Raiders kicker Jonathon Sanchez nailed a 36-yard field goal to cut the Generals’ lead to 7-5 with 5:11 left before halftime. Southeast jumped ahead 12-7 on a 13-yard scoring run by quarterback Will Swantic with 44 seconds left in the second quarter.
But the Generals had a height advantage at several receiver spots and used it on passes of 18 and 30 yards to 6-foot-4-inch Tyler Meroney before Dylan Bice threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Christian King with 1:04 left in the third quarter to push Heritage ahead 13-12.
Southeast moved ahead 20-13 when Blake Foster caught a 27-yard pass from Rhett Harper.