RALEIGH — Sanderson quarterback Matt Koehler controlled the last three minutes of the game to lead his team to a 20-14 win over Heritage.
In those three minutes, Koehler led his team on a 99-yard drive, and then scored on a 12-yard run up the middle with just five seconds left to play in the Spartans’ Cap Eight 4A victory.
Heritage came into the game ranked No. 5 in The News & Observer poll, but fell to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the league. Sanderson is 3-3 and 1-1 in conference.
But it was a big win, according to Koehler.
“I try to take all the games the same, but this is definitely a big win for us,” said Koehler, a senior who also plays baseball. “This puts us back in the conference (race), we’re chasing a conference title and this gets us a little closer. It’s especially big because of how we lost last week. We earned this.”
The Spartans were also driving for a winning score late against Wakefield last week, but fumbled the ball away and lost the game.
“The same situation, but we got it this time,” said Koehler, who ran for all three Sanderson scores.
Heritage’s defense dominated Sanderson for the first two periods. The Huskies led 7-0 at halftime on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Blake Walters.
But the Sanderson offense woke up in the second half, starting with the opening possession, a 63-yard drive with Koehler scoring from the one.
Heritage bounced back to take a 14-7 lead on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Walters to Jalen Parson.
Sanderson’s Zairee Parker’s 38-yard run then set up a 7-yard bootleg touchdown run to tie the score at 14-all early in the fourth.
From that point, Sanderson’s defense, led by end Antwuan Elliott and linebacker Cole Nigro, stopped the Huskies, while Koehler, Parker, Jeriko Styles, Marvin Motley and Leonel Katuku made plays on offense behind a line made up of center Brad Hughes, guards Simon Jackowski, Dagi Bayunga and tackles Elijah Bell and Elijah Bivens.
The winning drive took 12 plays. Styles rushed for 53 yards in the drive and Koehler completed a couple of passes to Motley for 25 yards before he bulled his way across the goal line.
“We were due for this,” Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad said. “I’ve been proud of them and the effort and they found a way to win against a good team.”