Former Deerfield player and assistant coach Kevin Prisant returned to Southwest Georgia on Friday night --- but as the head coach of Heritage --- and kept his one-loss team on track to win a region title in his first season with a narrow 30-28 victory against SGA.
DAMASCUS -- Welcome back to Southwest Georgia, Kevin Prisant.
With upwards of 25 friends and family members on the sideline cheering for Prisant on Friday night, the Albany native and first-year Heritage head coach led his team to its most exciting win of the season.
Playing in Southwest Georgia for the first time since becoming a head coach, the Deerfield-Windsor graduate and former assistant coach at Deerfield and Randolph Southern was flooded with hugs, handshakes and congratulations after escaping with a 30-28 win at Southwest Georgia Academy's homecoming.
"This was a ride, it was a heck of a ride," Prisant said. "You're sitting here like, 'Is this really happening?' It's kind of surreal."
Friday night's game was a ride that went back and forth until the final seconds ticked off. SGA (4-3, 1-2) had the first lead of the game, but a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half gave Heritage the lead at halftime. SGA regained the lead in the third quarter only to see Heritage score back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter to gain a 30-22 advantage.
And then there was the final touchdown of the game -- a 21-yard pass from SGA's Dillon Driver to Nathen Lingo that brought the Warriors to within two points.
After failing to convert the ensuing two-point conversion that would have tied Friday night's game, Driver staggered to the sideline and fell to a knee.
For nearly a minute, the quarterback knelt and prayed.
Driver then glanced over his shoulder just in time to see SGA's Teel Massey recover an onside kick, giving the Warriors one final chance.
Driver and the Warriors drove the ball all the way to the Hawks' 20-yard line before Heritage's Joe Bonner intercepted a pass in the end zone, ending any hopes of a storybook ending for SGA and their senior quarterback.
"We were supposed to win that game," Driver said. "I was excited (after the onside kick was recovered), but I knew there still was work to be done. We just fell short in the end."
Driver finished with three touchdowns --- two rushing and one passing --- while throwing for 135 yards and running for 32 more. The gutsy senior, who has played with a dislocated shoulder throughout the season, finished the game despite bruising his ribs after being on the wrong end of a hard tackle late in the fourth quarter.
"I told (Driver) after the game that if I could put his heart into all my guys, we would be unbelievable," Prisant said. "He is a winner."
Prisant and his Hawks are turning into quite the winners, too. The team that won just four games last season and lost its final three --- including a 32-25 setback to SGA --- is now 7-1 overall and 2-1 in region play.
"When I took this job, if you would have told me we would be 7-1, I would have said you were lying," said Prisant, who got two rushing touchdowns from Candler Rich and a rushing and a passing touchdown from Bonner.
Rich and Bonner both played quarterback at times for the Hawks and used their athletic abilities to hurt the Warriors with their legs and their arms --- something that SGA coach David Bell said he expected.
"I thought we were prepared for that," Bell said. "I thought we made some good adjustments at halftime and stopped them. We just made too many mistakes. You can't give a team short fields to work with. ... (Heritage) did a really good job, but we helped them a lot."
Those mistakes Bell was referring too started immediately Friday night for the Warriors when the Hawks recovered a wide-open onside kick on the opening kickoff.
However, the mistakes in the second half --- a snap going over the punter's head in the third quarter and two turnovers in the fourth quarter --- were what really cost SGA it's second loss in a row.
"You just have to be careful," Bell said. "We are playing a lot of young kids."
Driver scored SGA's first two touchdowns with 2-yard and 28-yard runs. Trailing 16-14 at halftime, the Warriors took a 22-16 lead in the third quarter when running back Will Warren scored on a two-yard rush.
The loss puts SGA into a position where it can't afford to lose either of its remaining region games against Flint River Academy or Brookwood.
"We can't lose another one," Bell said. "This pretty much puts first place out. There is still pretty much a crap shoot for second, third and fourth.
"We will find a way to be alright. All we want to do is get into the playoffs. Once you get in the playoffs, you have to beat them all anyway if you want to win it all. This was a tough one, but we have to put it behind us."