For more on high school football, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
OSSIAN – The Heritage Patriots like to tout a quick-strike offense, and it's an appropriate label with the big-gun arm of senior quarterback Branson Dossen.
“When Branson Dossen's on, Branson Dossen's a man among boys out there,” Heritage coach Dean Lehrman said. “He's a secret weapon all by himself.”
It's probably stretching things to call Dossen a secret, but the weapon part is right on the money. After falling into a 19-point hole on the road, Dossen directed the Patriots back to a 31-21 win over Norwell on Friday night at Norwell.
Dossen completed 14 of 28 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He had two interceptions, but that's part of the risk with that quick-strike approach.
“If (the offense) is on, it's pretty hard to stop,” Dossen said. “We've been playing with each other since forever and we just have a good connection, reading defenses and picking out the holes.”
Norwell (1-1) looked dominant early, forcing four turnovers, including an interception return score by linebacker Trevor Eichler. But the Knights lost senior quarterback/linebacker Piercen Harnish to an injury on the final defensive series of the first half. He took a shot to the ribs, coughed up some blood and was held out the rest of the game. Harnish was diagnosed today as having a chest wall contusion.
By the time Harnish was injured, Heritage had already starting building its comeback.
Down 19-0, Heritage scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the first half, both on Dossen passes: 27 yards to Austin Conrad and 10 yards to Nathan Roop. The second touchdown pass came after Heritage's Jailon Parrish picked off a Harnish pass with less than a minute left in the second quarter.
Dossen connected on an 81-yard touchdown pass to Roop in the third quarter to pull the Patriots to within 21-18 with 2:18 left in the third quarter. That was a great example of Dossen's big-play ability. On the previous play, he'd had a 43-yard pass to Justyn Hart erased by a holding penalty. So he reloaded and fired an even bigger strike.
“That was a big momentum change for us,” Dossen said. “Once we get rolling, we just have to keep on going for it.”
The Patriots then proved they weren't just quick-strike artists with a seven-play, 86-yard drive, capped by a Justyn Hart four-yard touchdown run, to take their first lead of the game, 25-21, with 5:51 left.
Heritage's defense fed off the momentum and closed the door on Norwell, which played the second half with senior wide receiver Reggie Hayes at quarterback. Hayes had been questionable to play earlier in the week due to a head injury suffered in last week's win over Leo. While lineman Curtis Blackwell returned to the lineup, the Knights also lost safety Ashton McCune to a second-half shoulder injury. McCune led the Knights with seven tackles.
Heritage clinched the game with a 35-yard touchdown run by Hart with 3:25 left. Hart rushed 16 times for 141 yards and two Heritage receivers had 100 yards: Roop with four catches for 113 yards and Conrad with six catches for 100 yards.
Harnish rushed eight times for 80 yards in the first half, scored a touchdown and threw a scoring pass to tight end Jeremy Davis.
“Piercen's a big part of our offense and defense, but we had opportunities to win that ball game yet,” Norwell coach Jeff Miller said. “Heritage had opportunities and they executed and made them and we didn't finish things or make stops on defense.”
Miller pointed to Dossen's play as the key to Heritage's comeback.
“That Dossen kid is just a thrower,” Miller said. “They started off running the ball and weren't having real success, but when they went to the passing game, I thought we could be in trouble. He throws that middle-deep ball and he puts it right in the middle. We had guys there, but they came up with it. We have to make those plays.”
Heritage (1-1) opens Allen County Athletic Conference play at Woodlan next Friday while Norwell opens Northeast Hoosier Conference play at home against Carroll.