Oh, boy did the Harrison High School football team overcome obstacles to earn the Class 4A South League crown over Falcon on April 23 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Panthers committed five turnovers — three in the red zone — tallied 14 penalties and lost senior top player Kahli Dotison due to injury with 19 seconds left in regulation play.
Harrison still prevailed 40-32 in double overtime to finish the regular season undefeated at 6-0.
“This was a wonderful team effort,” coach Rob Leboeuf said. “I’m always proud of our kids. The amount of adversity we are able to overcome and their approach to some things is astounding. Obviously, we can shore up some of those (errors) but they’re like my sons and I’m proud of how they played.”
Harrison enters the Class 4A playoffs as the No. 2 seed and will host No. 7 Centaurus on at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Centaurus finished 3-3 overall and concluded the season with a 48-8 loss to George Washington.
Centaurus and Harrison had two common opponents: Sierra and Denver North. Both teams went 2-0 against those opponents but Harrison fared better.
The Panthers beat Denver North 40-9 in the opener and shut out Sierra 26-0 the following week. Centaurus opened the year with a 33-12 victory over Sierra and defeated Denver North 33-12.
Here’s how the Panthers earned the league title and clinched the No. 2 seed.
The Panthers (6-0 overall, 5-0 South League) trailed for the first time this year and did so twice. The first occurred after Falcon (5-1, 4-1 South League) ate 7:49 off the clock during their opening drive and took a 6-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first.
The Panthers responded with a seven-play, 64-yard drive where Davonn Stevens reached pay dirt on a 4-yard run to build a 7-6 lead with 1:10 left in the first.
The final instance happened after the Falcons capitalized on a literal slip up late in the fourth quarter.
“(Stryder Sartor) got knocked down off the line,” Leboeuf said. “He got up and hustled his butt off. Our outside (line)backer lost sight of him because he fell down. The quarterback bought himself a little bit of time and made a great pass and the kid made a great catch. You can’t really fault our defense on that. It was a great play by Falcon.”
The 71-yard bomb to Sartor gave the Falcons a 26-20 lead with 2:23 left in regulation, but the Panthers swiftly erased the deficit.
Jaseim Mitchell had three interceptions in the red zone on three consecutive drives from the end of the first half into the third quarter.
However, Mitchell remained poised and shook off the errors to find Jordan Southerland. Southerland spun off a pair of defenders and juked another before he crossed the goal line for an 18-yard score to tie it at 26-all with 28 seconds left.
“Jaseim made a couple of boneheaded plays, but he came up big when he needed to do it,” Leboeuf said. “He and Southerland came up big at the end of the fourth and Jaseim did so again in OT.”
Harrison had a shot to take the lead but Falcon blocked the extra point and the score remained 26-all.
After the kick off to Falcon, two plays later, Antonio Camey-Valdez and Dotison dropped to the turf. While Camey-Valdez’s fall was brief, Dotison remained grounded for more than 20 minutes.
The senior left on a stretcher with an undisclosed injury, but Leboeuf confirmed Dotison is OK and will be available for Friday’s contest.
“He’ll be back,” Leboeuf said. “We’re thinking it was just a nerve-shock type of thing but he’s going to play next week. There’s no question about it. He had movement and everything when I was over there, and he was responsive the whole time. He’ll be alright.
The entire Panthers roster escorted Dotison as medics rolled his gurney to the ambulance to transfer him to the hospital.
Before he entered the vehicle, Dotison had one message for his squad.
“'Finish this game,'” Stevens recalled. “That’s exactly what we did.”
Dotison’s words served as the catalyst to revitalize the Panthers as they rode a rollercoaster of emotions to victory.
In overtime, each team started first and goal from the 10 with four downs to score.
The Falcons had first touch and scored from the two on fourth down for their final score of the night, which made it 32-26.
Harrison came up with a big stop on the two-point try to keep it a six-point game.
On the Panthers’ first play of overtime, Mitchell went 10 yards to knot the game at 32, but they missed the kick to go to double overtime.
From there, the Panthers’ defense earned another big stop to allow Harrison an opportunity to seal the game.
“Our defense is always going to come and play physical football,” Leboeuf said. “I always feel good about our defense. That’s why we hardly punt. If we go for it at midfield and we don’t get it, I know our defense is going to get a stop or make it very difficult for opponents to score.”
On the second play in double overtime, Stevens carried the rock four yards to pay dirt and punctuated the game with the two-point conversion.
“The O-line did their job all night. Falcon couldn’t stop our O-line all night,” Stevens said. “They opened up the gaps for me, I made the right cut and, boom! That was the end of the game.”