But a pair of timely, fourth-quarter turnovers led to touchdowns, and suddenly the Mustangs were on their way to their first playoff victory in five years.
A 20-9 win sends Memorial (7-4) to the area playoffs to face Elkins or Katy Taylor. Back in the postseason for the first time in four years, the Mustangs aim to make the most of it.
“It means a lot,” Memorial senior linebacker Nick Haas said. “Obviously it’s been a while. We’ve put in that hard work to get to this point. But it’s not really just to make playoffs. We actually want to make a run for it, so we’re working our butt off every week to get to that next game.”
Memorial trailed 9-6 when Haas recovered a Heights (4-7) fumble in Mustangs territory, sparking the decisive run.
Keeping the ball exclusively on the ground, Memorial covered 51 yards in nine plays for the lead. Matt Sanders’ 14-yard run set up the go-ahead two-yard touchdown from Carson Zahn for a 13-9 lead with 4:55 remaining.
Memorial got the ball back on the next play from scrimmage on an interception by Dillion Glenn, setting up the Mustangs at the Heights 32.
Sanders and Connor Narsete traded runs, with Sanders sprinting in from nine yards on a keeper with 2:48 left to produce the final margin.
“Anytime you win in the playoffs you’re happy,” Memorial coach Gary Koch said. “You get to move on. I thought we fought real hard, as did they. They got after us pretty good. We made a lot of mistakes that we were able to bounce back from. I thought we really defended them well.”
The next Heights snap resulted in a sack by Cameron Justice, continuing an effective pass rush from the Mustangs. Koch credited defensive coordinator Craig Cripps’ game plan against quarterback Jalen Morrison and one of the area’s top passing offenses.
“We planned all week to get a strong rush to the quarterback because they have a really good passing game,” Haas said. “We worked on a lot of blitzing with our ends and outside linebackers.”
Heights reached the Memorial 28 or deeper on its first four drives but could only get nine points. Matthew McHenry and Patrick Smith stopped the Bulldogs at the two on the game’s opening drive.
Memorial was stopped inside Heights territory on its first possession, with Demarius Wilson returning an interception near midfield.
The Bulldogs cashed in, with Morrison finding Stephon Johnson behind the defense for a 39-yard touchdown. The point-after attempt failed, leaving Heights up 6-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
Demone Green helped force a Memorial three-and-out. Catches by Kendric Rhymes and Johnson brought Heights inside the Mustangs’ 30, but an intentional grounding call stopped the drive.
The Heights defense responded again and Tycorrian Bostick followed with a 55-yard punt return. The Bulldogs converted one fourth down, with Juan Coronado booting a 29-yard field goal on the next with 4:31 left in the half.
But the Bulldogs could not take the nine-point lead into the half, with a failed punt attempt giving Memorial possession at the Heights 8.
After a goal-line pass breakup by Heights’ Brian Mayes, Elliot Glatman’s 20-yard field goal produced a 9-3 halftime score.
Memorial fumbled away the opening kickoff of the second half but held the Bulldogs to a missed field goal.
The Mustangs kept the ball virtually the entire third quarter, running 17 plays and pulling within 9-6 on Glatman’s 30-yard field goal. A pair of catches by Ben Dukes, one for 33 yards, were key to the drive.