As if Zach Stoner and his Leo defensive backfield mates needed any more reason to get amped up for Heritage Friday night. Yes, they wanted to prove last year's dramatic 13-10 overtime win against the Patriots was a fluke, they wanted to spoil the Heritage homecoming and they wanted to remain unbeaten.
But more than anything, Stoner couldn't wait to face quarterback Branson Dossen and the high-scoring Patriots passing game.
“I think this was our best game (defensively), especially considering we haven't played a team that passes a lot,” Stoner said. “We did a lot of route running this week. Personally, I don't like (playing) man coverage; (tonight) gave me an opportunity to play back and then clean up. We focused on this all week and tonight we got it together.”
If practice was fun, then it was only an appetizer for Stoner and Lions' defense. Leo forced six first-half turnovers (three interceptions, three fumble recoveries) en route to a 35-0 lead and eventual 35-12 victory. The Patriots' two scores in the fourth quarter came against the Leo reserves.
Stoner grabbed the first Leo interception midway through the first quarter. It would be second of four consecutive Heritage drives to end in a turnover and helped set the tone Leo was looking to set.
“Our secondary and linebackers did a great job of dropping and getting to their spots,” said Leo coach Jared Sauder. “And our front four did a great job of pressuring and making (Dossen) get rid of the ball.”
From a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, the Lions jumped quickly to a 28-0 lead midway through the second. Logan Leiter scored on runs of 15, 14 and 3 yards before Lions quarterback Jordan Hissong rushed in from 76 and 16.
After a slow start offensively, Sauder was happy with the turnaround by his Lions.
“Our guys knew it was a big game and took a while to settle down,” Sauder said. “But that was mainly the offense; defense from the get-go played a great football game. They put our offense in great position the entire first half.”
Asked how much credit Leo's defense earned in defense of his Patriots, Heritage coach Dean Lehrman was quick to respond.
“Wow! They're so much bigger, faster, stronger than we are,” Lehrman said. “They are the cream of the crop in our conference. But we didn't help ourselves in the first half. We are a young ball club, whether we were tight, I don't know. But we have to learn from this.”