OKEECHOBEE — Heritage scored 34 unanswered points fueled by a touchdown pass on the final play of the first half to erase a 14-7 deficit and the Panthers went on to defeat Okeechobee 41-14 in high school football action Friday in Palm Bay.
Quarterback Daeshawn Mils found Josh Gaines with a 42-yard pass as time expired in the first half to give Heritage the momentum.
Mills ran for 78 yards and two scores and passed for 80 yards for Heritage (4-2).
Gaines ran for 117 yards on just five carries to surpass 4,000 yards in his career for Heritage.
Okeechobee played very well in the first half thanks to an inspired defense and an efficient mistake-free offense.
After Heritage took the opening kickoff and drove 63 yards in six plays for a touchdown, Okeechobee responded with two touchdown drives of their own. Bubba Fludd broke loose on a run of 46 yards on Okeechobee’s second offensive play to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Fludd to tight end Fred Bradley. After Jajuan Cherry recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Okeechobee drove 24 yards in five plays to score again on a 1-yard burst by Lamar Williams.
Gaines admitted his team got off to a slow start but that they expected a battle from Okeechobee (2-3).
“Tonight it was a little hard for us at first but then we settled down and started to play our game and we ran the ball better,” he said. “This was a big win and last year it was a very close game, we didn’t want it to be the same way and we wanted to open up a little bit more.”
Gaines played a big part in Heritage’s resurgence as he scored in the third quarter on a 40-yard jet sweep after a Brahman fumble. Mills ran for a 6-yard touchdown to cap an 8-play 63-yard drive to start the third quarter and give Heritage a 21-14 lead.
Heritage added two fourth quarter scores as the Panthers drove 40 yards in eight plays and scored on a pass from Mills to Clinton Bartley. The final score came on a 67-yard punt return by Josh Harden. Heritage also fumbled at the Brahman 1-yard line after another drive.
Brahman coach Chris Branham said he felt his team played very well in the first half, but couldn’t get anything going in the second half.
“When we ran together and did our assignments we played step for step with them. In the second we turned the ball over, didn’t sustain drives and we put our defense in bad spots.”
Bradley said the Brahmans lost momentum when a few players left the game to injury and couldn’t recover.
“There was a momentum swing, when people got hurt the trust level goes down, in order to be successful we have to get that fixed.”
Bradley added the Okeechobee showed they can play with the best teams if they remain focused.
“If we keep our focus and play Brahman football I think we can play with all the teams left on our schedule.”
Branham praised his offensive line that opened holes and helped Okeechobee run for 205 yards as a team.
“The offensive line grinded it out and stayed together and finished the game. The second half we fought as hard as we could. The machine is only as good as the parts that go into it. When parts are missing it don’t run the same.”
Heritage had 414 total yards and Okeechobee had 213 yards. Bubba Fludd left the game with a possible concussion in the third quarter. Cherry suffered a chest injury and left the game in the fourth quarter. Williams rushed for 87 yards for OHS. Lasedrick King ran for 90 yards for the Panthers. Okeechobee had 13 first downs in the game. Okeechobee had only 20 yards in penalties. Both teams had three turnovers. The Brahmans also stopped a fake punt. Jumar Barnes had an interception for Heritage. Zeke Matthews picked off a pass for OHS. Brahmans with tackles for loss included Fred Bradley and Juanyae Ford. This week the Brahmans face Fort Pierce Westwood at home.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News