American Heritage’s football team took pride in the way it battled back and nearly stunned Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic on Saturday night.
But a final series of miscues on their final scoring drive capped off numerous errors that ended with a frustrating 23-22 loss at home in a battle of nationally-ranked teams.
“We’re a resilient team and I still feel like we’re one of the top teams in the country,” Heritage coach Mike Rumph said. “You have to give credit to DeMatha. They came down here and battled through the elements and made the plays they needed.”
Senior Khalil Herbert, who started for injured running back Kyshaun Bryan, swerved his way to the end zone from 45 yards out to bring Heritage to within one point with 53 seconds left in regulation. Herbert finished with 107 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots (1-1), ranked No. 15 nationally by USA Today, initially appeared to ready to go for two points and the potential win as they changed personnel to keep its offense on the field. But in the time elapsed, Heritage was penalized for delay of game. A second penalty for an illegal substitution pushed the conversion back to the DeMatha 12-yard line.
The Patriots lined up for a tying extra point and senior Oren Milstein just barely hooked the kick wide right.
DeMatha Catholic (2-0), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, recovered the onside kick to seal the outcome. The Stags defeated a South Florida powerhouse for the second consecutive week following last week’s 38-14 win over Miami Central in Washington.
Heritage committed 13 penalties for 101 yards and turned the ball over twice.
The Patriots also had two long snaps go over punter Zack Thomson’s head. The first led to DeMatha’s opening touchdown run in the first quarter — one of three touchdown runs by Khory Spruill — to give the Stags a 7-3 lead. The second came in the second quarter and went through the end zone for a safety that gave DeMatha a 16-3 lead right before halftime.
“The mistakes at the end reflect us not being disciplined enough and we’ll take that on us as coaches and work on that starting Monday,” Rumph said. “I take responsibility for that last field goal because we were between going for two and kicking the extra point. We should have solidified that and had a perfect idea of what to do going into that situation.”
Heritage trailed 23-9 with 5:30 remaining in the game when junior linebacker James Houston forced a fumble and Decarlo Hamilton recovered.
This started the comeback.
Junior quarterback Jason Brown led the Patriots’ march downfield, completing three passes of 11 yards or more. Herbert capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 23-16.
Heritage made a tremendous special teams play on the ensuing kickoff that nearly allowed it to tie the game earlier. Milstein kicked off into the far corner and near the sideline. Sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain chased it down and was able to field the ball and retain possession before falling out of bounds to give Heritage the ball at the DeMatha 8.
An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty backed up Heritage 15 yards. Brown then hit junior Dontavius Butler over the middle, but he was stripped of the ball and cornerback Robbie Robinson returned it inside the Heritage 10.
Heritage still gave itself one last chance, blocking a DeMatha field goal that would have put the game out of reach with 1:03 left. Senior Eugene Walter recovered the loose ball and returned it to the DeMatha 45 setting up Herbert’s touchdown on the next play.
“This humbles us and it seems every year we need a loss like this to humble us and get us going and fired up to become a winning team,” Rumph said. “If that’s what it takes this year, we’ll take it, but we would have obviously been happier with a win especially with all the mistakes we made.”