Mac Whalen got Heathwood Hall out of an early hole Friday night, and he saved the season with a late fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Whalen's effort in a wild SCISA semifinal game against Laurence Manning Academy preserved a 35-28 victory and sent Heathwood Hall to the the SCISA 3A state championship game.
"Up and down, up and down," said a relieved Heathwood Hall coach Rip Blackstone. "They got off to a great start and we responded like we were supposed to do. That showed us what kind of character we had."
The Highlanders (12-0) take on cross-town rival Hammond Friday night at Benedicts' Charlie Johnson Stadium for the state title. The Skyhawks defeated Wilson Hall 20-7.
Laurence Manning (7-5) forced Heathwood Hall to earn its way into the final game of the year. The Swampcats jumped to a 14-0 lead, thanks to Graison Matthews' 95-yard kickoff return on the opening play of the game and Bill Wheeler's 1-yard TD dive four minutes later.
Whalen erased that deficit and then some by halftime. The senior rushed for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth to give Heathwood Hall a 28-14 lead at intermission.
By the third quarter, it appeared the Highlanders had the game well in hand. Thanks to some defensive stops, Laurence Manning was able to keep the game close.
Matthews' 10-yard touchdown run early in the final stanza, followed by quarterback Josh Boykin's 38-yard, fourth-and-11 touchdown strike to Preston Minton with 3:38 left in the game knotted the score at 28.
"We knew if we could just hang in there, we could find a way to pull back in it," Laurence Manning coach Ken Kellahan said. "We had a chance at the end, but they're 12-0 for a reason. They found a way to win it in the end."
Heathwood Hall's way was through a defensive stop. After the Highlanders muffed the kickoff after the Swampcats' final touchdown, Laurence Manning was set up to go for the winning score inside the Heathwood Hall 25-yard line.
The Highlanders forced a fumble that Walker Sojourner recovered. A Whalen 64-yard scamper set Heathwood Hall up at the Swampcats' 21, and three plays later Whalen ran three yards for the game-winning score.
Whalen finished the night rushing for 112 yards and four touchdowns, as well as passing for 132 yards and one score.
"He's the guy we look to on offense, and he responded well," Blackstone said. "He had some interceptions tonight, but when it came down to where we had to have something, we made the big play."
Laurence Manning 14 0 0 14 - 28
Heathwood Hall 7 21 0 7 - 35
L - Matthews 95 kickoff return (Burns kick) 11:46.
L - Lee 2 run (Burns kick) 8:13.
H - Whalen 1 run (Fowble kick) 6:19.
H - Whalen 1 run (Fowble kick) 9:58.
H - Whalen 2 run (Fowble kick) 7:32.
H - Stern 38 pass fromWhalen (Fowble kick) :37.
L - Matthews 10 run (Burns kick) 7:21.
L - Minton 38 pass from Boykin (Burns kick) 3:38.
H - Whalen 7 run (Fowble kick) 1:09.
First Downs 12 11
Rushes-Yards 44-99 25-194
Passing Yards 130 132
Att-Com-Int 20-8-2 19-10-3
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-51 4-26
Punts-Avg. 3-35.7 1-41.0
RUSHING - Laurence Manning, Lee 6-15, Matthews 16-44, Boykin 14-22, McNair 8-19, Anderson 1-(-1). Heathwood Hall, Sojourner 7-50, Mac Whalen 14-112, Shine 1-38, English 1-(-4), Team 2-(-2).
PASSING - Laurence Manning, Boykin 16-7-2, Anderson 4-1-0. Heathwood Hall, Mac Whalen 19-10-3.
RECEIVING - Laurence Manning,Wheeler 3-46, Boykin 1-13, Matthews 1-23, Minton 3-48. Heathwood Hall, English 2-9, Stern 5-72, Morgan Whalen 3-51.