HEWITT — Four times in their four-year varsity football history, the Heritage Jaguars have reached the area round of the football playoffs. And now for the fourth time, the Jags are moving on to the region semifinals.
A pair of defensive touchdowns gave Heritage a huge spark on Friday night as the Jaguars overcame some offensive struggles and prevailed over Navasota, 26-14, in an area-round victory at Midway High School’s Panther Stadium.
The Jags (8-4) will return to Midway to play Palestine in the Region III semifinals on Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Palestine (7-5) beat Huffman Hargrave, 19-14.
Jay Wilkerson returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Jags on the board after a 7-0 halftime deficit. Late in the game, Konner Jones-Searcy scooped and scored from 45 yards out with 1:49 left to put a bow on the win. Travis Buckley’s fumble recovery in the final minute removed all doubt.
Linebacker D’Angelo Freeman finished with nine tackles, including two for losses, two forced fumbles, two sacks and a pass breakup.
Cullen Stone led the offense with 12 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yard run that gave the Jags their first lead of the night and a 6-yard run that turned out to be the game-winner. Cade Sumbler attempted just 12 passes all night, completing seven for 53 yards.
Last year, Heritage dominated the Rattlers, 49-9, but this year was a different story. The Jags were outgained 308 yards to 182 and managed just 11 first downs to Navasota’s 17. But the Jags played turnover-free football and limited their penalties after committing a hold and a false start on their very first series of the game.
The Jags went three-and-out on their first possession and the Rattlers used a short field to take a 7-0 lead on Darius Randle’s 9-yard run. From there the first half was a defensive battle, with the Jags making a stand at their own 9-yard line in the second quarter to turn the ball over on downs.
Wilkerson’s interception return finally put the Jags on the scoreboard, but the extra point was no good, keeping them behind by a point. But the spark was lit, and after forcing a Navasota three-and-out, Stone burst open for his 50-yard scamper, putting HHS on top for the first time all night, 13-7.
Early in the fourth quarter, Navasota’s Zack Dyer completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tavarus Baker to put the Rattlers back on top by a point. But that set up Heritage’s winning drive of 65 yards on 12 plays, including a clutch fourth-down pass from Sumbler to Haydon Wiginton to move the sticks. Stone’s 6-yard run gave the Jags a 19-14 lead.
Navasota appeared ready to answer, but quarterback Dyer lost the football in the backfield, and Jones-Searcy picked it up and returned it for a touchdown to seal the win for the Jags. The Rattlers threatened in the waning moments to score, pushing all the way to the Heritage 9 before Buckley’s recovery ended the night.