KJ Vaughan knelt near the 50-yard line as the fans slowly filed out of City Stadium on Friday night.
He looked exhausted, not at all like a player who had just carried his team to victory.
Then someone put the little brown jug in his hands, and Vaughan’s face lit up, the look of pain and relief turning to joy.
The burly senior running back made sure the prize of the annual Jug Bowl will stay at Heritage another year. With the Pioneers trailing E.C. Glass 14-13 in overtime, Vaughan went for a two-point conversion.
He plowed into the Hilltoppers' defense, dove and barely put the ball across the goal line for a thrilling 15-14 victory.
That dive gave Heritage the Seminole District lead with one game remaining. It also dashed Glass’ hopes for a perfect season. Both teams are now 8-1 overall. Heritage is 6-0 in the district, Glass 5-1 with one game left to play in the regular season.
“It was a dogfight, just like we said it was gonna be all week,” Vaughan said. “In overtime, we said we weren’t gonna lose this game.”
Glass and Heritage got to the extra period by both scoring in the first quarter and then playing sound defense that resulted in more than 36 minutes of scoreless football at the jam-packed midtown stadium.
Heritage took an early 7-0 lead on its first possession, a 55-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown by Vaughan. Glass responded near the end of the first frame with a 2-yard TD by running back Quoterrus Craighead.
The rest of regulation featured hard-nosed defense, three-and-outs and promising drives that eventually stalled.
Both teams had touchdown passes called back because of penalties — Heritage off a high-arching bomb from quarterback Kameron Burns to Brian Trent in the first half, and Glass off a rifle shot from quarterback DreSean Kendrick to Markevus Graves in the third quarter. Glass kicker Tyler Garrett missed a 20-yard field goal attempt on that same drive.
Cam Robinson, a Glass defensive back and former Heritage player, intercepted Burns with 1:02 remaining in regulation, but Glass didn’t have time to put together a successful drive.
In OT, Kendrick handed the ball off to Craighead, who fumbled near the goal line. Kendrick picked it up and ran it in the right side of the end zone, and Garrett made the extra point for a 14-7 lead.
“We ran a dive and the [Heritage] D-tackle put his head right on the ball, but it was bouncing on his back,” Kendrick said. “I just saw it and took off.”
Kendrick passed for 148 yards, completing 7 of 13 passes, and rushed for 57 yards. He became the all-time leader rusher in E.C. Glass history Friday, eclipsing Scott Dovel’s mark of 4,026 yards, set in 1977. Kendrick also surpassed his father Andre’s school record for most career all-purpose yards, a mark of 4,190 set in 1995.
“It was special until we lost,” Kendrick said of setting new records on the same night.
Vaughan’s overtime touchdown made it 14-13. Heritage coach Brad Bradley elected to go for a two-point conversion, and both teams burned timeouts after it became clear the Pioneers weren’t settling for a tie.
“You go to win the game,” Bradley said.
The coach notched his 200th career victory Friday night. Years ago, when Bradley coached at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry, he went through a three-overtime affair with Pulaski.
“We kept kicking the extra points, and Pulaski beat us in overtime,” he said. “I’m not gonna do that anymore. I’m gonna play to win the game.”
There was initial confusion about whether Vaughan’s two-point plunge went over the goal line. It was one of two calls E.C. Glass deemed questionable on the night; the other was the penalty that negated Kendrick’s third-quarter touchdown pass.
“We’re gonna go watch [the film],” Kendrick said, “and just move on. Don’t let Heritage beat us twice.”
Players flooded from the sidelines to the north end zone to see whether Vaughan crossed into the end zone. Finally, referees signaled a touchdown.
“Just the will to drive, and heart,” Vaughan said of what got him across.
Heritage receiver Kryon Thomas (five catches for 42 yards) said he told Bradley that Vaughan should run the ball up the middle.
“Two great teams,” Thomas said. “We both expect to be in [separate] state [championships] on Dec. 14, so all credit to [Glass]. It was just a heck of a game. … I [saw] all the doubters on Facebook this week, like, ‘It’s gonna be a slaughter.’ But just now, I’m feeling like we’re running for another 365 days.”
Glass’ Ty Foster led the rushing attack with 95 yards. Burns passed for 54 yards for Heritage, and Krystian Rivera added 55 hard-fought yards on the ground, giving Vaughan breathers and pushing the offense forward.
“I knew the game was gonna be close, but not like this,” Rivera said. “I never expected us to go into overtime. … It was gutsy [to go for two], but Coach Bradley, he’s not a conservative coach. He’s gonna go for the win every time.”
Glass coach Jeff Woody called the game “an instant classic.”
“We made some mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Woody said. “But it’s nobody’s fault why we lost other than our own.”
The game marked Heritage’s second straight victory over Glass. The Pioneers have now won 10 of the last 11 meetings between the two programs.
“These kids did not want to lose tonight,” Bradley said. “They refused to lose, and we found a way to win.”
Then the Heritage coach was asked if he enjoyed reaching the 200-win plateau.
“It feels better to win the jug,” he replied.