But the Wildcat secondary came up big when it mattered, picking off four passes to help preserve a 28-14 win for Trigg County on homecoming night at Perdue Field.
The win pushed Trigg’s overall record to 5-1 and bumped their district mark to 3-1 with three games left.
But the Wildcats fell behind in the first quarter against the Pirates, who scored on their first two drives but didn’t score again.
A defensive adjustment saw the Wildcats double-team the Pirates’ two fastest receivers, Long and Brandon Austin. Long didn’t catch another pass after the touchdown, and Austin didn’t have a single catch.
"Our defense has gotten away from giving up the big pass play. We’re giving up some yards in between, but we haven’t given up many since the Graves County game, other than Long’s touchdown tonight," Wildcat head coach Curtis Higgins said.
The Wildcat defense gave up 208 passing yards by Tilford, but just 31 in the second half.
Trigg’s secondary, which had managed just two interceptions in their first five games, came through with four picks at key times.
Greg Acree picked off two passes in the end zone, while Devin Tejada also came up with two deep in Wildcat territory.
"The coaches told me to stay back and move on the ball," Tejada said. "We prepared for their speed in practice all week."
Heath was just 1-of-6 in the red zone as the Wildcat defense bent throughout the game but didn’t break.
"We didn’t run the routes we were supposed to. We broke off several routes we weren’t supposed to, and made some mistakes at the wrong time," Heath head coach Butch Edwards said.
While the Wildcat defense came up with the big plays, the offense had their second strong performance in as many weeks, rolling up 413 yards and 16 first downs.
Steven Wadlington had his second straight 100-yard rushing game and 12th of his career, finishing with 177 yards on 23 carries. The senior moved past Edgar McGee into fourth place on the school’s all-time rushing list and needs just 59 yards to reach 3,000.
Wadlington scored Trigg’s first touchdown on a 21-yard screen pass down the left sideline that put the Wildcats ahead 7-0 at the 8:08 mark of the opening quarter.
Heath answered by driving 72 yards on just six plays and reached paydirt when Brock Wright scored from three yards out. Wright finished the night with 97 yards on 24 carries.
After Long picked off a Woodall pass, he and Tilford hooked up on a 67-yard touchdown pass against single coverage down the left sideline that gave the Pirates a 14-7 lead with 3:33 left in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats answered by taking to the ground. Trigg ran eight of the next nine plays, covering 80 yards and tying the game when Wadlington scored from six yards out with 11:41 left in the first half.
Heath drove to the Wildcat 4-yard line, but a procedure penalty preceded Acree’s first interception of the night in the corner of the end zone to preserve the seven-point lead.
The Wildcats tried to extend their lead on their next drive, but Jacob Wadlington’s 37-yard field goal grazed the outside of the right upright. Wadlington was a perfect 4-of-4 on extra point tries.
Heath took advantage of a fumbled punt return by the Wildcats but saw their next drive stall at the Wildcat 36-yard line.
Trigg County took the lead when the Wildcats split four receivers to one side, and Tommy Woodall went up the middle on a 49-yard draw that gave the Wildcats a 21-14 lead with 1:40 left.
Heath drove quickly into Wildcat territory, but Tejada stepped in front of Austin at the 10-yard line for his first pick of the night.
The Pirates opened the second half with a 12-play, 63-yard drive and a 17-play, 60-yard drive but came up empty both times.
Acree and Tejada ended the drives with interceptions near the Wildcat goal line.
"We just couldn’t get the football into the end zone. If we had scored more, our defense would have picked things up," Edwards said after the Pirates fell to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the district.
Trigg County went ahead by two touchdowns when Wadlington capped off an 80-yard drive with a 15-yard run. The drive began with a 42-yard pass from Woodall to Tejada.
Woodall completed 8-of-11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. He was picked off once.
Tejada had two catches for 57 yards, while Jake Wallace had three catches for 29 yards.
Heath threatened late when a short punt gave the Pirates the football at the Wildcat 30-yard line with 4:28 left.
Facing first-and-goal at the 3-yard line and second-and-goal at the one, the Wildcat defense put the clamps on Heath with a tackle-for-loss and a sack that ended the drive and sealed the win.
"We made them run the football. We were giving them the run up the middle, because we wanted to contain their veer option and be on the outside," Higgins said.
The Wildcats gave up 356 yards of offense to the Pirates, but just 130 after halftime.
Trigg County now leads the all-time series with Heath 10-9 and has won six straight in the series.
The Wildcats play their final regular season home game Friday against Webster County at 7:30 p.m. at Perdue Field.