AURORA — The one in 7-1.
Harrison High School football team’s bid for the school’s first state football appearance ended following their 28-21 loss to Gateway at Aurora Public School Stadium in the Class 4A state playoffs.
“[The loss] hurts but God has a plan for everything and it just wasn’t our time,” said senior Jordan Southerland. “Stuff happens but our team next year is going to come harder than ever.”
The No. 2-seeded Panthers had a shot to tie the game late in the fourth quarter after Jaseim Mitchell picked up 12 yards on 4th and 2 to keep the drive alive.
Mitchell escaped a host of Olympians (5-3) to skate to the 10 for a first down and Panthers eventually marched to the six.
A pair of flags on the No. 3 seed Olympians placed the ball at the three-yard line but the Olympians stuffed the Panthers on third and goal. Panthers had one final shot to reach pay dirt with 4:40 left in the game.
“We were trying to get it in the C gap with Carlos (Preciado) and get the kick out,” said Panthers coach Rob Leboeuf. “Gateway made a good play. They were on that side, blew it up and didn’t let us get anything. We can play Monday morning quarterback about what plays we should have called, but we felt good about that one based on what we had done in the second half.”
The goal line stand gave the Olympians the ball and they didn’t relinquish possession the remainder of the game.
Cheers rained down on the Olympians after the play and, eventually, after their victory. It’s the first time since Nov. 16, 2019, that the celebration wasn’t for the Panthers.
“I’m always proud of these guys,” Leboeuf said. “The season is a grind and you go through injuries and bumps and boo boos and you have to battle through it. You have to hand it to Gateway. They wanted it just a little bit more. They made a few more plays than we did but this was a hard-fought matchup.”
The Panthers also needed to play catch up in the opening frame where they trailed in the first quarter for just the second time this season.
On the first play of their second drive, the Panthers fumbled, the Olympians recovered, took it 10 yards and built a 7-0 lead with 5:11 on the clock.
After the Panthers defense stopped the Olympians on 4th and 1 at their own 41, Kahli Dotison capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive with a 3-yard run for a score. The kick tied it at 7-7 with 5:51 left in the half.
Jordan Southerland ended the Olympians’ fifth drive with an interception he returned to the Olympians 10 with 4:08 on the clock.
Three plays later, Davonn Stevens carried a host of Olympians eight yards with him into the end zone to take a13-7 lead with 3:18 left in the half.
“That [interception] came from weeks of preparing,” Southerland said. “I started off slow and I had to bounce back. This could have been my last game – which that ended up being the case – so I had to go harder than ever.”
However, as the Panthers increased their intensity, so did Olympians quarterback Erick Covington, who also gave the Panthers fits in the teams’ first meeting.
Covington erased the Panthers’ advantage after a 70-yard scamper down the Olympians’ sideline to gain a 14-13 advantage with 2:54 left in the second.
Covington burned the Panthers again on the Olympians’ next drive with a 45-yard run to pay dirt with 6:05 left in the third to make it 21-13; Harrison’s largest deficit of the season.
The Panthers final points came after a huge kickoff return from Southerland, who bolted from the 1-yard line to the Panthers 39.
Kahar Briggs capped the drive with a 12-yard dash to the end zone to cut the lead to 21-19 with 4:57 on the clock in the third.
Coaches shouted, “Go for two!” from the sideline, highlighting the urgency to tie the game rather than cut the lead to 21-20.
Mitchell heeded the command, carried the ball to his right and found the end zone to knot the game at 21-all.
But on the following drive, the Olympians marched past the Panthers’ usually impregnable defense to reclaim the lead and never looked back.
Leboeuf said the loss didn’t take away what the Panthers accomplished this season or over the previous four years.
“This senior class has accomplished somethings that have never been done in school history,” Leboeuf said. “This senior class has won three straight league titles, they finished two regular seasons undefeated. They won a playoff game for the second time in school history and those are things they need to hold their heads up high about.”
Leboeuf heaped praise on players for their performance this year and through the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. He also spoke to their character they displayed throughout the season.
“Their bonds that they’ve made and forged throughout the years is strong and they’ll be brothers for life,” Leboeuf said. “They don’t just talk about it, they live it. Now, we have to get back to the grind and have these kids compete in baseball and track and build that mentality and hold ourselves accountable in the classroom. It’s a process and it never ends. It’s a lifestyle.”