Heritage High Football Team Wins School's First CIF Title

CIF CHAMPIONS: Members of the Heritage High School football team surround head coach Kraig Broach and display the CIF-SS Central Division championship plaque Saturday night.
Story by Zac Force
Photos by David Stovall

On the east side of Menifee, at a school that is only six years old, the Heritage of football already is an impressive one.

The Heritage High Patriots finished an impressive 13-1 season with an amazing comeback to defeat host Rancho Verde 34-33 Saturday night in the CIF-SS Central Division finals. It was the first CIF championship in the brief history of the school's athletic department and could be an indication of great things yet to come.

Coach Kraig Broach, who has led his team to the CIF finals in two of the last three years, is still waiting for the realization of all this to sink in.

"This means a lot," Broach said during the wild victory celebration after the game. "It means a lot to the kids. I’ll figure out exactly what it means in a bit. I wanna enjoy the night.”

Perhaps most impressive was the way the Patriots fought back after trailing 20-0 in the first quarter. By the fourth quarter, Rancho's lead was 33-21. But in the opening minute of the final period, Limihai Hifo - a team leader all season -- scored his second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 33-28 (with the PAT kick).

For the Patriots, the best was yet to come.

After stopping Rancho Verde to get the ball back, Heritage drove the ball all the way to the Rancho Verde 24-yard line with 3:29 remaining. Despite an illegal procedure penalty and an unsuccessful third-down play, quarterback Brett Virgil came up big once again.

On 4th and 9, the sophomore quarterback connected with tight end Evan Rodriguez on a 24-yard TD pass, giving Heritage a 34-33 lead with about three minutes left. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Rancho Verde down by a point with no timeouts remaining.

True to form, the Mustangs didn't give up, either. They moved the ball all the way to the Heritage 17-yard line, where quarterback Sheriron Jones spiked the ball to set up what would've been a game-winning 35-yard field goal with 7.9 seconds left. But the kick was short, and Heritage's CIF championship dreams had come true.

Virgil (right), whose older brother Chad quarterbacked the Patriots into the CIF finals two years ago, felt a definite family connection to this victory.

"I feel like I won it for me and my brother," said Virgil, who carried 12 times 95 yards and a TD and completed 5 of 10 passes for 103 yards and two scores. "We were disappointed when we were down 20, but we knew we could bounce back. Thanks to our amazing O line, plus Hifo and (Sione) Takitaki."

Hifo carried 23 times for 159 yards and two scores, while Takitaki gained 62 yards on 7 carries.

"Last year we came up short, but I feel blessed that we were able to win this game tonight," Hifo said.

Rancho Verde (11-3) appeared to have complete control of the game entering the second period on the strength of a 1-yard touchdown run by Keshawn Slaughter and two TD passes by Jones. The game was far from over, however.

Early in the second quarter, Heritage' offense finally made an impact. Hifo scored on a 1-yard run to make it 20-6 (the PAT failed). Moments later, Heritage defensive back Matt Palmer intercepted a Jones pass -- his 10th pick of the season -- to set up a 46-yard touchdown run by Virgil. When the halftime horn sounded, Rancho Verde still clung to a 26-14 lead.

"We didn't give up and we kept playing hard," Broach said afterward.

Limihai Hifo had two touchdown runs for Heritage and finished with 159 yards rushing.

The Heritage High defense swarms around a Rancho Verde ballcarrier.

Tight end Evan Rodriguez had two touchdown catches for the Patriots.

The players exchange handshakes after a hard-fought game.

Patriots head coach Kraig Broach accepts the CIF championship trophy from a CIF official.


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