BERNE – The truth of the matter was down here in the west end zone, where the Heritage Patriots were taking a knee. And taking victory hard.
Off to their right, over everyone’s shoulder, the not-quite-truth still glowed on the scoreboard: Heritage 40, South Adams 34. A third win in four games.
A second “W” against zero losses in the early stages of the ACAC race, which, at the end of Friday evening, left the Patriots alone atop the conference pile.
And feeling lower than low, judging by the long faces and the thousand-yard stares.
All of that was because of the way it ended Friday, with the Patriots sagging against the ropes and South Adams coming.
Ahead 34-13 after quarterback Branson Dossen’s 79-yard bomb to Austin Conrad in the final seconds of the third quarter, Heritage wound up hanging on for dear life after the Starfires scored three times in the last 10 minutes and gasped their last only because an onside kick in the final 31 seconds wound up beneath a Patriot.
Drew LeFever, who rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries, ripped off 44-yard run, Isaiah Amstutz broke a counter play 59 yards for another and Amstutz got it to within a touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Derek Wanner in the final minute, after Heritage coughed up the football inside its own 30.
Not the sort of endgame to leave the winners exultant.
“This is kind of who we are right now,” Heritage coach Dean Lehrman said.
“We did the same thing at Norwell. … You know, we’re a young ballclub, we’re learning, we’re gaining experience. I don’t know, we haven’t gotten over that hump yet.”
Not that there weren’t bright spots. Dossen threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Conner Bleke.
Sophomore Justyn Hart ran for 121 yards and two scores. All told, the Patriots put up 435 yards of offense.
But the defense gave up 265 yards on the ground and three scoring plays of 40 or more yards.
And the Patriots’ luck was sour early.
They opened things up with a three-and-out, went three-and-out on their second possession, and then gave away a sure six on their third try when Bleke caught a spot-on slant from Dossen and set sail – only to part company with the ball mere steps from the end zone, where South Adams finally recovered.
Then things got better.
Heritage scored on its next three possessions – Dossen-to-Nathan Roop from 19 yards out, Hart up the gut from 22 yards away and Dossen-to-Bleke for 18 yards and the score – and the Patriots rode that burst of offense to a 20-13 halftime lead.
That went to 34-13 on Hart’s 5-yard run and Dossen-to-Conrad – and then it got interesting.
“We haven’t been able to play a complete ballgame and finish,” Lehrman said. “But it’s coming. You know, things are never quite as bad as they seem and things are never quite as good as they seem.
“I’m sure sometime tomorrow it may look a little brighter.”