If Hollywood knew about the Gateway football team, its story would be a good bet to end up in movie theaters.
A program that has overcome an amount of adversity that only those truly on the inside are fully aware is on the cusp of winning what would be only the second state championship in the school’s lengthy history.
There’s still one more win to get against top-seeded Thomas Jefferson in the Class 4A spring final May 14 in Pueblo, but if there is one thing senior quarterback Erick Covington and the Olys have shown, it’s that they can never be counted out.
“Before the game, I just said to everybody, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones?’” Covington told the Sentinel after Gateway’s 28-21 win over second-seeded Harrison May 7 in the 4A semifinals.
“This is a miracle,” he added. “This should be a movie.”
On the surface, it might just look like another team qualifying for a state championship, but it is mostly definitely more than that and not only because it is the first time Gateway has even made a state football title game.
Gateway was among the five Aurora Public Schools programs that had to wait until the spring season, as the district opted as a whole to wait until Season C while the majority of the teams in the state played in the fall despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On top of that, as the season became close to beginning, the Olys found themselves without a head coach when Robb Wetta — who had held the job for 13 months — resigned for personal reasons and a short time later accepted the head job at Horizon.
Justin Clyatt, a former player and 2003 Gateway graduate and an assistant coach in stints under former Olys coaches Justin Hoffman and Taylor Calvert, stepped into the void to lead the team with help from athletic director Brendan Netherton, who took over as offensive coordinator.
What followed as a crash course in preparation for a season that was only six weeks long to begin with and which turned out to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride until the final two weeks.
The season also included the announcement that the program would have a new head coach next season in Earnest Collins Jr., a former coach at the University of Northern Colorado.
Gateway put things together in a 49-0 win over Aurora Central April 22 to get to the finish line of the regular season at 3-3, qualifying for the eight-team playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
With a matchup against undefeated and third-seeded George Washington ahead, the Olys found out they would have to miss almost the entire week of practice because of a possible exposure to COVID-19 in the game with the Trojans.
Despite that, Gateway knocked off the Patriots 30-27 on the strength of a gritty fourth-quarter drive and clutch defensive stand, then followed that up with its semifinal victory over Harrison, which had beaten it 34-18 just a month earlier.
So forgive Covington if he won’t truly believe he will play for a state championship until he puts his cleats on the turn at the Neta and Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl.
“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.”
Covington had a lot to do with making his own dream come truly of playing for a state championship.
Against Harrison he rushed for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Kaden DeVault for the deciding score in the first minute of the fourth quarter to culminate an 11-play drive that began negatively with a holding call.
It was another time Gateway had to counter Harrison (7-1), which wouldn’t go away.
Covington 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.
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 senior RJ Webster handled the ball exclusively on the final drive 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.”
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.”
The victory took every ounce of resolve they had, but the Olys practiced what 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.”
Now, Gateway has a chance to do something extremely unique for the school, which has never had a state championship come from a boys team.
The school’s only state title came in 1992 from the softball team, which won Class 6A.
“This brings so much energy to the school and hope, which we’ve never had a lot of,” Webster said. “Instead of being an average school like people say, we have a chance to do something special.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports