DENVER — There were 19 seconds left in regulation when Heritage was down by eight points to Denver South with the ball on the Rebels' 6-yard-line. It was a tense situation, and when Eagles quarterback Chase Hansen threw the ball to the deep right corner of the end zone, Rebels cornerback Darrien Golden was there to snatch the ball and halt Heritage's chance at pushing an overtime.
Denver South football, ranked No. 2 in this week's CHSAANow.com Class 4A poll, remained undefeated at 4-0 after taking down No. 4 Heritage 31-23 at All City Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Rebels had a lot of offensive momentum early on and scored touchdowns on the first two drives. The Eagles, now 2-2, were off to a slow start and struggled with the tough Denver South defense, but started making crucial plays led by Hansen in the second half.
Both teams came into this game pretty banged up on starters and had to rely on some backups to really step up.
"It was a good game, and we had four starters that were out," Denver South coach Tony Lindsay said.
Senior tight end/linebacker Esaias Gandy, who was used as a tailback in this game, was a player who really came through in the clutch for the Rebels, and dominated on both sides of the ball.
"Man, he's the Energizer Bunny," Lindsay said. "He's nonstop and he never comes out."
On a fourth down in the Rebels' first drive of the game, Gandy took the ball 67 yards to the house. He scored again late in the third quarter, and after the extra point was good, the Rebels were looking at a significant 31-10 lead over the Eagles.
"Everyone stepped up when we needed to and it was a close game at the end, but we finished it," Gandy said. "On the offensive end, we had a few people down so I really had to step up."
Running back sensation and human bulldozer Marcus Lindsay scored an early touchdown for the Rebels and was very effective in powering his way through and around defenders to get important first downs in the first half. He briefly went in for two plays during the second half, but ultimately remained on the sideline with cramps.
Senior Quinton Johnson also scored a touchdown for Denver South in the second quarter.
"Hats off to Denver South," Heritage coach Tyler Knoblock said. "They were an incredibly physical football team with some really talented kids, and they’re ranked No. 2 in the state for a reason. It took our kids a while to respond."
There were a few times Heritage made big plays to get in really great scoring position, but failed to capitalize on anything before time expired.
Juniors Josh Martin and Tyler Zoesch, who had a second quarter touchdown, made plays in the run and pass game for Heritage, and Hansen did a great job putting the ball in tough places and getting out of pressured situations. The offensive line really stepped up as well.
"We came back in the second half and finally started responding. Defensively we started getting some takeaways off them," Knoblock said. "We were banged up coming in and got a little more banged up in this one, but we played for four quarters and we played tough."
The late stress began with two quarterback keeper touchdowns. Within three minutes in the fourth quarter, Hansen took the ball to the end zone on short drives. But the biggest late Heritage play came on a fourth down conversion with just under 1:30 left in the game when Hansen threw it 14 yards to the 27, and the team began slowly driving — the the 11, then the 6 — before the Golden endzone pickoff abruptly ended the game.
"Great players make great plays, and that was one of those situations," Lindsay said. "That really fired the guys up."