MISHAWAKA – Brandon Robinson, the Heritage High School football legend turned coach, surveyed the postgame scene. He saw disappointed faces. He saw tears. And he saw a team for the ages.
Yes, Heritage was ambushed from the start and lost the Class 3A regional championship game to Mishawaka Marian 42-20 on Friday in Mishawaka.
But Robinson, the offensive coordinator, was able to take a figurative step back and see something longer-lasting than this snapshot of season-ending pain.
“In the big picture, I want to say this is the best Heritage Patriot team there has ever been,” Robinson said. “You can put TEAM in capital letters. These 25 seniors right here are special, and it was just a little too much for us today.”
It was indeed too much too fast for Heritage. Mishawaka Marian scored quickly – monster back Tyran Ottbridge on the second play from scrimmage – and often. Heritage turned the ball over twice early. Marian pounced. It was 28-0 early in the second quarter.
Even Heritage's best early moments were short-lived. Brenton Lockett picked off a pass in the end zone, and Heritage senior Conner Sheehan turned around and led an 80-yard drive, hitting five passes and setting things up for a three-yard Jacob Roop touchdown run to make it 28-7.
Seconds later, Marian's Dominic Ravotto threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Will Whitten and it was 35-7.
The second half was better for Heritage – Sheehan hit touchdown passes to Lockett and Zach Toles – but time evaporated on the game and the season.
“We got slow out of the gate for some reason unknown to us,” Heritage coach Dean Lehrman said. “The kids never gave up. They played their hearts out. It was a great run with a great senior class.”
Heritage senior Wil Knapke played the entire game with a painful hip, evident as he hobbled between plays. But like the rest of the team, he would have had to have been dragged off the field not to play to the final whistle.
Heritage (10-3) won Allen County Athletic Conference and sectional titles and accomplished as much as any team in school history.
“We had a great year,” Knapke said. “I didn't expect this coming in and I think we surprised everybody. We knew what we needed to do game in and game out. This one we just came out slow and couldn't get on top.”
Robinson, who once held the state's career rushing record, called the plays for an offense that generated scoring outbursts game after game. The Patriots came up short of the first regional title in school history, but they pushed themselves and their team to the limit until the final seconds.
He reiterated that he believes the school has never seen a better football team.
As time goes by, the seniors who hurt so bad Friday night will feel great about the season they produced.
Sheehan was 32 of 58 passing for 386 yards and two scores against Marian. Lockett picked off two passes and had 99 yards receiving and 61 yards rushing. Zach Toles had 95 yards receiving. Knapke caught 14 passes for 86 yards.
“It will feel satisfying after tonight,” Sheehan said. “We have accomplished so much as a team this year.”