Heathwood Hall coach Rip Blackstone put it succinctly after his unbeaten Highlanders stunned Ben Lippen 24-10 at Hathaway-Weeber Stadium on Friday.
"It's only one step on the long road, but, boy, that was a big one to take," the elated coach said.
"We (had) a great defensive plan by (assistant coach) Brad Coleman, and the kids executed it perfectly. We played it pretty conservatively on offense, but when we needed a drive, a first down, a play - we got it."
The Highlanders' defensive plan was simple and direct: blitz Ben Lippen quarterback Joey Carter again and again. Linebackers Walker Sojourner and Morgan Whalen ran wild though the confused Falcons line, keeping Carter from establishing any kind of comfort zone.
Sojourner pressured Carter into two hurried passes that were intercepted by Alec Gregg, one of which set up the first score of the game early in the first quarter.
In the end, the harassed Falcons quarterback completed 10 of 28 passes and finished with minus-5 yards rushing.
"Joey's a great quarterback, and we put in a lot of work getting ready to try and stop him," Sojourner said.
"We knew it was all about pressure. We had to get after him and keep after him. It was a great job by the entire defense."
The Highlanders offense again fell to quarterback Mac Whalen, who delivered. Whalen ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns and connected on 8-of-13 passes for 91 yards.
"We really felt we could come here and get a big win if we played smart football," the senior quarterback said. "We weren't perfect by any means, but we did enough to get a win against a good team."
The Highlanders (4-0, 1-0 SCISA Region 1-3A) jumped ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. Gregg's interception and 50-yard return to the Falcons 7-yard line was followed by Whalen's 3-yard scoring run with 7:55 to go. Whalen then ripped off a 73-yard scoring run at the two-minute mark.
The Falcons (4-1, 0-1), down 17-0 entering the fourth quarter, got on the board on a 37-yard field goal by Tuck Benefield with 10:22 left, and they got a break two minutes later when Sammy Joe White blocked a Whalen punt that was recovered for a touchdown to make it 17-10.
The Highlanders, however, responded with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped by Whalen's clinching 23-yard run around the left side. Heathwood Hall converted three third downs along the way.
"After we had that kick blocked, we had to do something to get back in control," Whalen said.
Heathwood Hall 14 3 0 7- 24
Ben Lippen 0 0 0 10- 10
HH- Mac Whalen 1 run (Cole Fowble kick), 7:55
HH- Mac Whalen 73 run (Cole Fowble kick), 2:00
HH- FG Fowble 23, 6:51
BL- FG Tuck Benefield 37, 10:22
BL- Cory Jackson-Patrick blocked punt recovery in end zone (Benefield kick), 8:29
HH- Mac Whalen 23 run (Fowble kick), 2:40
First downs 10 10
Rushing 31-201 26-21
Passing yards 91 218
Att-Com-Int 13-8-0 28-10-2
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties 8-66 4-30
Punts 2-63 2-54
Rushing: HH, Mac Whalen 19-185, Sojourner 8-32. BL, Carter 9-(-5), Fant 6-24.
Passing: HH, Mac Whalen 8-13-0-91. BL, Carter 10-28-2-218.
Receiving: HH, Morgan Whalen 2-14, Stern 3-29, Dubose 3-15. BL, Wilson 2-14, Smith 2-41, Froseborough 2-73.