American Heritage kept its unbeaten record and state championship hopes intact on Friday night, but Cardinal Gibbons didn’t make it easy.
Led by the tough running of 5-9, 170-pound junior tailback Miles Jones and its always-reliable defense, the No. 1-ranked Patriots held on for a 10-7 victory in a Region 4-5A semifinal playoff game.
The Patriots (11-0) will play at defending state champion Orlando Bishop Moore (11-1) next week in the regional final.
Gibbons (9-2) took a 7-3 lead with 8:40 to play in the third quarter when Heritage quarterback Jason Brown fumbled a handoff exchange and defensive tackle Hunter Astle pounced on the loose ball in the end zone.
But Brown eventually made up for it when he capped a 12-play, 56-yard drive with 5:54 remaining with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Jones was the workhorse on the drive though. He carried nine times for 41 yards and converted a crucial fourth-and-3 at the Chiefs’ 32-yard line by just getting enough to keep the chains moving.
Jones finished with 101 yards rushing on 20 carries, picking up 72 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
“He’s been nursing an ankle injury and to be 172 pounds and to run the way he did just shows how much character he has,” Patriots coach Patrick Surtain said.
“Our guys came through with a championship drive when we needed it.”
Heritage marched down the field on the game’s opening possession and took a 3-0 lead on a 30-yard Zack Thomson field goal.
After forcing Gibbons to punt quickly, the Patriots were on their way toward more points when running back Abraham Alce lost the football and linebacker Dave Small pounced on the fumble at the Chiefs’ 25.
Gibbons drove right down the field and reached the Heritage 22 when it ran into trouble.
A false start, sack and then an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty pushed the ball back to the Chiefs’ 43, and they were eventually forced to punt.
Gibbons’ next drive reached the Heritage 18-yard line but ended with Patrick Surtain Jr. out-jumping receiver Carlos Sandy in the end zone for the drive-killing interception on third down.
The Patriots held Gibbons to 121 yards of total offense, including minus-24 yards rushing. Heritage sacked Gibbons quarterback Nikolas Scalzo five times and picked him off twice.
Tyson Campbell had the other Patriots interception.
Friday’s win marked the eighth consecutive time Heritage has beaten Gibbons since the schools became district rivals in 2010.
The Patriots won the regular-season meeting over the Chiefs 29-9 last month.