AURORA | When Erick Covington’s cleat touches the field at Colorado State-Pueblo next week, the reality might finally hit him that he and his Gateway teammates will be playing for a state football championship.
The star senior quarterback and his Olys earned that reality with an electric 28-21 upset win over Harrison in a Class 4A spring semifinal at Aurora Public Schools Stadium Friday night that brought with it the program its first-ever chance to win a state title.
After a game in which he rushed for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass to senior Kaden DeVault for the deciding score, Covington got a celebratory bath in bottled water from teammates and then had a chance to think about what’s ahead.
“It’s been my dream to make it to the state championship; I’m not going to believe it until I’m there and see everything in person,” he said. “It’s still surreal, I would never have expected this, but I’m just glad it is all coming to reality.”
It would be easy not to believe that Gateway — the No. 6 seed in the 4A playoffs — would be in the state championship game given that had previously undefeated teams in the first two rounds, but dispatched both: No. 3 George Washington 30-27 in the opening round and now the second-seeded Panthers (7-1), who beat the Olys 34-18 a month ago.
It took every ounce of resolve they had, but the Olys practiced what coach Justin Clyatt had preached all week.
“The word of the week was grit,” said Clyatt, who himself got a celebratory dousing of cold water. “They showed it tonight and they’ve been fighting through adversity all year.”
Clyatt, a Gateway graduate who has served multiple stints as an assistant coach, took over leading the program along with athletic director Brendan Netherton when Gateway had its coach resign shortly before the spring season.
An uneven start to the season has turned into a team that is peaking at just the right time.
The Olys’ leaders on both sides of the ball were key in the result against Harrison.
Senior linebacker RJ Webster gave Gateway a huge shot of momentum midway through the first quarter when he scooped up a fumble and took it back 10 yards for a touchdown.
“That brought momentum and hype to our team and it gives us hope that we can go do this,” Webster said. “We need positive plays that keep us fighting.”
Covington got plenty of positive plays on the offensive side as he has all season.
He quickly bounced back from an interception that set up the second of consecutive touchdowns that helped Harrison build a 13-7 lead in the second quarter, as he followed that with a 70-yard touchdown run that gave his team a 14-13 lead at halftime.
Covington’s 45-yard touchdown run in the third quarter again gave his team the lead, but Gateway had to respond again after a Panthers touchdown and two-point conversion tied it up.
The Olys did just that, going on an 11-play drive that started going backwards with a holding call, but resulted in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Covington to DeVault.
From there, it was up to the defense to hold and a unit that become adept at coming up with key plays in key moments in recent weeks.
That came as Harrison moved all the way down to the 1 yard-line, only to get stuffed on fourth down by Antwuan Smith and Eric Rivera III.
Covington and Webster handled the ball and made sure Gateway didn’t make any mistakes as it took the final four-plus minutes off the clock.
“All week in practice, I told everybody, ‘if we work together, nobody can beat us,'” Covington said. “‘Just keep our heads in the game and don’t look back, and if you are going to do anything, do it 100 percent.’ And look what that got us? To the state championship.”
Gateway will play the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between top-seeded Thomas Jefferson and fourth-seeded Falcon.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
(6) GATEWAY 28, (2) HARRISON 21
Score by quarters:
Harrison 0 13 8 0 — 21
Gateway 7 7 7 7 — 28
Gateway — RJ Webster 10 yard fumble return (Ryan Claxton kick), 5:11
Harrison — Kahli Dotison 4 yard run (Davonn Stevens kick), 5:51
Harrison — Stevens 7 yard run (kick failed), 3:18
Gateway — Erick Covington 70 yard run (Claxton kick), 2:55
Gateway — Covington 45 yard run (Claxton kick), 7:15
Harrison — Kahar Briggs 12 yard run (Jaseim Mitchell run), 4:59
Gateway — Kaden DeVault 12 yard pass from Covington (Claxton kick), 11:54
Harrison: Jaseim Mitchell 16-82, Davonn Stevens 13-53, Kahli Dotison 12-44, Kahar Briggs 7-37, Carlos Precciado 1-0
Gateway: Erick Covington 15-194, RJ Webster 9-16, Antwuan Smith 1-8, Sh’marre Johnson 1-7, Ethan Brennesholtz 1-0
Harrison: Mitchell 8-14, 75 yards
Gateway: Covington 5-13, 32 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Harrison: Daykel Wiggins 3-32, Jordan Southerland 24, Dotison 19
Gateway: Johnson 1-21, Kaden DeVault 1-12, Brennesholtz 1-4, Gabe Broussard 1-0, Smith 1-(minus 5)