For most of the game, it appeared as though the host's defense, led by Teradja Mitchell and Tank Chandler-Land, was going to be the unit making headlines. The Crusaders intercepted Patriots quarterback Cam Smith three times in the first half and played with an aggressiveness that seemed to put the visitors from Plantation, FL, back on their heels early.
Meanwhile, Bishop Sullivan quarterback Tyler DeSue was able to connect on a few throws and get loose for some relatively big gainers on the ground in the first half, and running back Jake Low was making his presence felt -- capping the lone touchdown drive for either team in the first half with a 2-yard plunge.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, that scoring possession was not a sign of things to come.
Despite playing without star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. -- who was forced to sit with an MCL sprain suffered in a scrimmage last week -- the American Heritage defense was as nasty as advertised from that point forward. A pass rush led by Andrew Chatfield and Nesta Silvera harassed DeSue all night, forcing six sacks and countless hurried throws. And a Bishop Sullivan ground game that showed promise in the early going was all but eliminated in the second half.
The relentlessness of the American Heritage defense would finally pay dividends late in the fourth quarter -- but only after one final test.
Following a fourth down stop, the Patriots took over in Crusaders territory with seven minutes to play and trailing 7-6. Smith and running back Miles Jones quickly pushed their way into the red zone and, ultimately, down to the 1-yard line. Just as it seemed a go-ahead score was a given, however, an ill-timed fumble handed the ball back to Bishop Sullivan with the lead and less than five minutes to go.
"It's tough when you're going in for the go-ahead touchdown and fumble on the 1," American Heritage head coach Patrick Surtain Sr. said. "Most teams would crumble in that situation. But you saw the sideline, everyone was upbeat. The defense ran on the field like, 'We're going to stop them and get the ball back.'"
And that's exactly what they did.
The Crusaders, playing understandably conservative beneath the shadow of their own goal post, went three-and-out. And after a Jones punt return set the Patriots up deep in Bishop Sullivan territory, Smith and the offense finally delivered, capping the short drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Jones. A successful two-point try made it 14-7 -- a tally that would stand as the final margin.
"It showed the resiliency of the offense to go right back down after that and march it in for a touchdown," Surtain said. "Everybody contributed tonight. Our motto is, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' We kept each other tonight."
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