You have to be quick to run the hurdles.
There’s also a toughness element.
Defending 4A state high and low hurdles champion Joseph Heitman is a difficult matchup, and he showed why on Friday.
Heitman tied a Greater Spokane League single-game record with five touchdown receptions, sparking the Mead Panthers to their first win – a 49-28 decision over the University Titans in a 4A opener at Albi Stadium.
It’s no mystery that Mead has a prolific offense. But the Panthers, much maligned for not having any defense the first two weeks, discovered some Friday.
Hunter Gregerson intercepted a Mead pass, setting up U-Hi at the Panthers’ 42-yard line with 10:18 to go in the fourth quarter with the Titans trailing 35-28.
But Mead’s defense stood tall, forcing the Titans to punt.
U-Hi (1-2) dropped into punt formation, but a bad snap was bobbled by the punter and Mead’s Nik Shover got a tackle for a 14-yard loss.
That set up Mead (1-2) at U-Hi’s 35. The Panthers wasted no time. In what certainly looked like a replay of two earlier touchdown connections, quarterback Ryan Chan hit Heitman on a deep post for a clinching touchdown with 8:12 to go.
Half of Heitman’s catches went for scores. He finished with 10 receptions for 204 yards.
“He’s a special player,” Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen said. “State champ guy.”
Heitman said he and Chan were on the same page all week.
“It’s just timing,” Heitman said. “All week we were on in practice.”
Heitman tries to get the most out of his abilities.
“As a hurdler you learn aggression, you learn to attack things,” Heitman said. “So I take that onto the field and apply it in all aspects of my athletics. It helps me for sure. God-given talent is a big one, too. I’ve been blessed with such great athletic ability and I give that glory up above.”
It was expected the game would be back and forth, and the first half didn’t disappoint.
The teams combined for six touchdowns in the first two quarters.
As expected, U-Hi did most of its work on the ground and Mead did its damage through the air.
After the first half, though, Mead’s defense allowed just one score.
In addition to his final touchdown catch, Heitman had scoring receptions of 11, 16, 33 and 36 yards.
Chan finished with six touchdown passes and a rushing score. He completed 20 of 31 for 306 yards.
U-Hi was led by running back Terrell Sanders, who finished with 141 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns.
Sonnichsen was proud of the strides his defense made this week.
“I thought the defense played really hard,” Sonnichsen said. “We knew we were going to score 35 points or more. We got a couple more than that and I felt like we could win this game. (After the interception) our defense stiffened. We have nine new starters on defense and the first two games we didn’t do a good job in some areas.
“So we really worked hard at addressing those areas and this is what we got tonight. We gave up points but our guys played hard. That’s a heavy running team and where are you going to see an offensive line like that again? Probably not. We needed our guys to step up and play smash mouth and they did.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.