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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Lakeland’s Devin Dimos is tackled by Heritage’s Cole Gerardot, bottom, and Brenton Lockett during the second quarter of Friday’s sectional game.

Gamble pays off for Patriots

Heritage gets in gear after making 4th-down play

– Heritage had a decision to make.

The Patriots had just thrown two incomplete passes, setting up a fourth down from Lakeland’s 15 early in the first quarter of Friday’s opening-round sectional game.

Facing a stiff wind and with its top kicker out with an injury, Heritage didn’t hesitate and decided to go for it.

Quarterback Conner Sheehan pump-faked and then fired a pass to Wil Knapke for a touchdown. It started a run of 35 consecutive points for the Patriots on the way to a 42-16 victory.

Sheehan had two passing touchdowns and also rushed for a score to help Heritage advance to the Class 3A sectional semifinal. The Patriots (8-2) travel to Tippecanoe Valley (8-2) next week.

Lakeland (8-2) got off to a nice start, pinning Heritage deep in its own territory in the game’s opening drive. The snap on fourth down sailed over the head of the punter Knapke and out of the end zone for a safety.

It was all Heritage from there.

“The kids responded well after the adversity,” Heritage coach Dean Lehrman said. “To the seniors’ credit, they showed a lot of character and a lot of leadership and brought us back. It was a good job.”

Brenton Lockett got the Patriots going with a 58-yard run on the first play of Heritage’s second drive. Knapke rushed for 15 yards to Lakeland’s 15 on the next play. The Patriots didn’t move the ball on the next three plays, setting up the fourth-down call.

Heritage elected to go for it, and Sheehan threw the TD pass to Knapke for the game’s first touchdown.

“I had to come in and keep the ball in bounds and let our receiver make the play,” Sheehan said.

The Patriots used their defense for their next score. Dustin Swaidner scooped up a fumble and returned it 31 yards for a score, extending the lead to 14-2 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.

“My first reaction was, ‘I’ve got to get it.’ I got it, and I was stumbling, I heard footsteps behind me,” Swaidner said. “Luckily, I had teammates behind me to block for me.”

Another long run by Lockett set up another Heritage touchdown. Lockett, who finished with 108 yards rushing, went 22 yards to Lakeland’s 5. Two plays later, Sheehan scored on a 1-yard run to extend the lead to 21-2 with 8:51 remaining in the first half.

Sheehan threw a short pass to Knapke that turned into a 28-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 28-2 lead late in the second quarter.

Any hopes Lakeland had of getting back into the game ended on the opening kickoff of the second half. The Lakers fumbled, and Lockett picked up the ball and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Jacob Roop also had a rushing TD.

“It means a lot to our senior class,” Sheehan said of advancing. “We definitely love playing football, and we want to keep playing.”