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Tennessee State's Heffner Gets Win, And Girl in Southern Heritiage Classic
Ex-Melrose QB scores twice, then proposes.
Antonio Heffner made his final college appearance in his hometown a memorable one. Football had something to do with it.
The former Melrose star ran for one touchdown and threw for another, and Tennessee State defenders returned two of three interceptions for touchdowns in a 41-18 rout of Jackson State in the 19th Southern Heritage Classic Saturday night before 50,794 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
But moments after winning the game’s Offensive MVP award for the third straight year, he dropped to one knee at midfield and proposed to longtime girlfriend Angel Parker, a nurse at Methodist University Hospital.
The stats showed he was 11-of-16 for 137 yards in the passing department. Make that 12-of-17 – Parker said yes.
“I knew I was going to do this all week. Told my teammates I was going to,” Heffner said. “When I got on the field I was focused on that. But when they took me out after the third quarter, that’s when I started to think about it.”
Parker, who has dated Heffner three years, said “I was the last person in the stadium to know it. I was stunned, but excited – and I knew what my answer would be.”
It was the first real moment of drama since the second quarter, as TSU (3-0) won its sixth straight game over JSU (1-2). The last four games between the teams in Memphis had been decided by a total of 11 points. But after JSU briefly gave its fans upset dreams by putting up a 10-0 first-quarter lead, TSU rolled to 38 unanswered points in the middle two quarters.
“We had to stay calm, and it had to start with me,” TSU coach James Webster said. “I told them we just had to keep working and play our game. We did last week (erasing an 11-0 first-half deficit to edge Southern University, 34-32). Tonight was a little tougher because it’s a big game, and people are excited.”
Heffner, who racked up 383 yards total offense in a win over Southern University a week ago, ran for 48 yards, including a 1-yard sneak with 6:36 left in the first half that put his team in front for good, 14-10.
Moments after a blocked punt by teammate Kellen Woodard, Heffner’s 39-yard pass to the end zone was tipped by a JSU defender, and TSU’s Brandon Belvin grabbed the loose ball for a 28-10 halftime lead.
In between, defensive MVP Eugene Clifford picked off JSU starter Trae Rutland and returned it 43 yards for a second-quarter touchdown with 2:37 left in the half.
“We had to step up after last week, put some pressure on,” Clifford said. “The pressure the line got on the quarterback set me up for the return.”
Webster said the defensive improvement was huge. “We talked all week about how we can’t give up the kind of yards and points we gave up last week,” he said.
As for Heffner’s theatrics, Webster said, “He let me know what he was going to do with about five minutes left. … I just said ‘Oh really? Good luck.’”
Rutland was replaced after that by Michael Mosley, who served up a pick returned 39 yards for a score by Ty’Ron Johnson early in the third period, making it 38-10.
“After Trae gave up two interceptions, we thought we’d give Michael a shot, but we made too many mistakes, too many penalties that took those guys out of good positions,” JSU coach Rick Comegy said.
Javarris Williams ran for TSU’s first touchdown in the second quarter, and Eric Benson added second-half field goals of 27 and 43 yards.
Erik Pearl’s 30-yard field goal, and a 5-yard TD pass from Rutland to Carlos Simpson had put Jackson State up 10-0 with 2:27 left in the first period. Bloi-Dei Dorzon scored on a 2-yard run early in the fourth period, and had 99 rushing yards for JSU.
TSU now begins Ohio Valley Conference play after racking up three straight victories over Southwestern Athletic Conference schools – Alabama A&M, Southern and JSU.
Heffner gets win, and girl in Southern Heritiage Classic
By Pete Wickham, The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Photo Credit: Staff Photo/The Memphis Commercial Appeal