Gateway senior Damian Chavez (70) is consoled by two Thomas Jefferson players after the Olys’ 28-27 loss to the Spartans in the Class 4A spring football state championship game on May 14, 2021, at the Netta and Eddie Derose ThunderBowl on the campus of Colorado State-Pueblo. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

PUEBLO | Time and time again this spring season, the Gateway football team had scratched and clawed back from all different kinds of adversity.

So it was easy to believe that the Olys would come through in the clutch when they took over the ball trailing by a point with two minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Class 4A state championship game May 14 at the Netta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.

But with senior quarterback Erick Covington hampered by a shoulder injury and the Thomas Jefferson defense flying around, the magic ran out for sixth-seeded Gateway, which was unable to score on the final drive and fell 28-27 to the top-seeded Spartans, who claimed their first state championship since 1989.

“We fought to the last second, so I’m proud of everybody,” Covington said afterwards, his throwing shoulder wrapped heavily with ice.

“The emotions show how much love and passion we have,” he added. “We battled with everything we had.”

The football team will add a runner-up trophy to the Gateway trophy case — which still has only one state championship in it courtesy of the 1992 Class 6A-winning softball team — but it could have been a gold one.

The Olys — who had a lead as large as 20-7 in the opening half after Covington’s touchdown passes to junior Gabe Broussard and senior Sh’marre Johnson, plus a long Johnson scoring run —held a seven-point lead midway through the final quarter.

Covington led the team down the field and into the end zone with a 17-yard fourth quarter run, but the Spartans would not fold.

Thomas Jefferson methodically moved the ball down the field, converting a close fourth down play and recovering a fumble on a potentially disastrous play in the red zone to get into the end zone with just over two minutes left.

The Spartans seized on the momentum and decided on an attempt for a go-ahead two-point conversion, which was successful when quarterback Austin Lindegren slipped into the end zone.

That turned out to be the difference as Gateway got the ball only to midfield before it failed to convert on fourth down in the closing minute.

“I was just trying to stop it (the two-point conversion) any way, then we would have been up by one and run the clock down and been in that position,” senior Antwuan Smith said.

“It’s heartbreaking to get all the way here and lose by one point, but you have to keep your head up. It means a lot that we got all the way here.”

It was a heartbreaking ending to the championship quest, but Gateway players and coaches universally will never forget the experience.

The team left Aurora with a full escort from the Aurora Police and Fire departments and saw hundreds of alumni and supporters travel more than 100 miles to Pueblo to support them down to the final seconds.

“You see the alumni, the parents, the family members, the students and everybody involved in the school that game here,” Covington said. “It was great for everybody to come together and watch us play this game.

“It just shows how good of a support system we have in the city.”

Justin Clyatt, a Gateway alum who took over as head coach just a couple of weeks before the season and will depart with Earnest Collins Jr. hired for next season, relished the next experience, result included.

“It was unreal, to go through all that COVID stuff and now finally get to this point and have a full crowd, a band and be out here in this place,” Clyatt said.

“I wouldn’t change this moment for anything,” he added. “Even tough we did lose, the experience was just unforgettable.”

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

(1) THOMAS JEFFERSON 28, (6) GATEWAY 27

Score by quarters:

Gateway        7   13   0   7 — 27

Th. Jefferson  7    0  13   8 — 28

SCORING

First quarter

Thomas Jefferson — Jaden Hill 5 yard interception return (Dimitri Haralambopoulos kick), 3:52

Gateway — Sh’marre Johnson 68 yard pass from Erick Covington (Ryan Claxton kick), 2:06

Second quarter

Gateway — Gabe Broussard 59 yard pass from Covington (Claxton kick), 10:05

Gateway — Johnson 43 yard run (kick blocked), 5:28

Third quarter

Thomas Jefferson — Hill 18 yard run (kick failed), 8:23

Thomas Jefferson — Austin Lindegren 11 yard run (Haralambopoulos kick), 1:18

Fourth quarter

Gateway — Covington 17 yard run (Claxton kick), 6:21

Thomas Jefferson — Hill 7 yard run (Lindegren run), 2:01

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