Heritage trailed Northwestern after two quarters of the teams' Class 3A sectional matchup. As they were in the locker room at halftime, the Patriots heard their opponents cheering on the other side of the wall.
"We just realized, they think they've already won," Heritage running back Gage Pritchard said. "We came out in the second half and just punched them in the mouth and took the lead."
The Patriots scored 29 unanswered points in the second half, buoyed by an interception and a touchdown run from Pritchard and two interceptions, including a pick-six, and a touchdown pass from quarterback Parker Tracey, to win 29-8 at home and pick up their first playoff victory since 2014.
"It feels really good," Pritchard said of the win. "This whole season we came out as the underdog, we only got one win. So it felt really good to come out here and execute."
Heritage (2-8) was behind 8-0 at halftime after surrendering a first-half touchdown and safety.
In the third quarter, however, Tracey tossed a wobbling pass in the direction of sophomore Eric Rogers on a crossing route. Rogers hauled it in and kept running, reaching the sideline before turning upfield and finding a clear path to the end zone for a long touchdown. Tracey then rolled to his right and found Hunter Teichman for a game-tying 2-point conversion with 8:42 left in the third.
On the next Northwestern possession, Tracey did all the work himself. He was in coverage when a floating pass was lofted in his direction. He caught it easily and raced untouched the other way for a 67-yard return and a 15-8 Patriots lead.
Tracey added another pick when Northwestern got the ball back, this one a leaping grab that he bobbled on the way down before bringing in.
"He stepped up big," Heritage coach Nico Tigulis said of Tracey, who does not usually play defense but was in because of injuries. "Super proud of him, he did a great job."
The Patriots pulled away in the fourth quarter behind two rushing touchdowns from Pritchard, both from 4 yards out. The first was a run around the left side in which Pritchard was able to get to the edge and score easily.
"The line had really good blocks," Pritchard of the score that made it 22-8. "It felt nice to run in there and have all my teammates come and jump and hug me."
Pritchard added an interception between his two touchdowns and returned it all the way to the end zone, but the play was called back because of a blocking penalty on the return. Instead, Pritchard added runs of 14 and 4 yards to put the ball across the goal line for good and make it a 21-point advantage.
After the game, a mob of Heritage players rushed over to the student section in the stands and sang the school fight song before sprinting back to the locker where the only cheering was theirs.