Bloomfield Hills – The finish in Farmington Hills Harrison’s victory over Detroit Country Day Friday night seemed too big for even the silver screen.
Looking to tie the game with a field goal in overtime, Harrison holder Roderick Heard recovered a bad snap and launched a prayer to backup quarterback Max Martin.
Martin’s touchdown allowed Harrison to sneak away with a 13-10 walk-off victory that’ll keep the program alive for at least one more week.
Harrison (8-3) will close its doors at the end of the 2018-19 school year, meaning that a loss would have officially ended a program with a record 13 state championships.
Harrison reached overtime by scoring four points on safeties and had a touchdown called back because of a penalty earlier in the winning possession.
Heard, who also leads the team in rushing and is committed to Northwestern at the cornerback position, was overcome with emotion after the game.
“I really just broke down,” Heard said. “It was just pure joy and happiness that our season is continuing, we’re going deeper into the playoffs, and we’re going to go on this run to get a championship and go out with a bang.”
Head coach John Herrington, Harrison’s only coach in its 49-year existence, said of Heard, “Some guys are just playmakers.”
“Rod’s our offense,” Herrington added. “He does everything. We couldn’t break him loose, but you know, last week it’s a punt return, this week it’s that pass. It’s amazing.”
Harrison will play one final home game at Herrington Athletic Complex in next week’s regional championship against Chelsea.
“I can’t describe it. I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” said kicker David Hiser, who thought the game was over when he whiffed on the field-goal attempt.
“All the pride that I play for Coach Herrington and this program, one more home game, that’s all I can ask for.”
All craziness aside, Harrison’s offensive performance through 48 minutes left a lot to be desired, Herrington said.
Heard carried the ball 20 times for 46 yards and starting quarterback Keel Watson was 5-for-12 with 67 yards passing as Harrison amassed just 138 yards of total offense.
Herrington joked that if he’d lost the game, “They’re going to fire me because I didn’t have any offense and we don’t have a school.”
Harrison got on the board less than two minutes into the game with a long-snap that sailed over the head of Country Day’s punter and out of the end zone to make it a 2-0 game.
After Ben Williams quickly put Harrison back into Country Day territory with a 22-yard kick return and 23-yard reception. A red-zone sack on third down by Danny Maclean limited Harrison to a field goal and 5-0 lead.
Country Day (7-3) quickly charged deep into Harrison territory with a 29-yard completion to Ryan Luft. The Harrison defense responded with timely sacks of its own to keep Country Day scoreless; Vincent Rawls and Andrew Brown brought down the quarterback on third and fourth down.
Even when Country Day couldn’t put points on the board, it kept Harrison at bay by controlling the field position with a dominant defensive line. Demetriess Champion was the unit’s show-stopper.
Champion’s 10-yard tackle-for-loss of Williams on a second down late in the first half gave Country Day the ball back at its own 40 with just minutes remaining.
“They were blitzing guys, but they played two off the edge,” Herrington said. “We just couldn’t block them.”
Then, Country Day quarterback Ahlon Mitchell turned his game up. He completed passes of 12 and 17 yards before a 22-yard strike to Darrin King finished the job as Country Day took a 7-5 lead with 1:20 remaining in the second quarter.
As if dealing with a ferocious pass rush wasn’t enough trouble, Watson was plagued by receivers who couldn’t hang onto the football. All four of his first-half incompletions were dropped by a wide-open receiver.
Heard picked up the slack with two 20-yard receptions on Harrison’s final drive of the first half. Those chunk plays weren’t enough to regain the lead, however, as a missed 37-yard field goal sent Harrison into the locker room with a 2-point deficit.
With 4:22 left in the third quarter, Harrison pulled even with another safety.
On third-and-6 from the 33-yard-line, three Harrison defenders hit Mitchell as he looked to get rid of a pass and sent the ball backward before countless members of both teams kicked it into the end zone. Country Day eventually recovered, knotting the game at 7-7.
Looking to take a fourth-quarter lead, Harrison was stopped on fourth down at Country Day’s 33-yard-line. And to make matters worse, Watson exited the game with a knee injury.
On its next two possessions, Harrison gave time to Heard and Martin under center. Heard wasn’t able to muster much in the wildcat formation, and Harrison’s running game couldn’t bail out a cold Martin.
Country Day took over at its own 45 with 1:17 remaining. Mitchell made a handful of great throws, including an 8-yard completion to Marcus Sheppard after he was chased nearly 20 yards behind his own line-of-scrimmage.
Mitchell’s luck ran out shortly after. He was picked off in the end zone by Javair Beeler, and the rest is history.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.