Cherokee Trail junior Sam Hart, right, celebrates with teammates after his 72-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter of the Cougars’ 17-7 win over Mountain Vista on Sept. 5, 2019, at Shea Stadium. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

HIGHLANDS RANCH | As a tight end, Sam Hart has had the football in his hands with the end zone in sight like he did Thursday night.

The Cherokee Trail junior typically has linebackers and defensive backs breathing down his neck on his way to paydirt, but this time it was a just a quarterback and offensive linemen.

From his position on the defensive line, Hart collected a fumble and made it all the way to the end zone for a 72-yard scoop-and-score touchdown that became the turning point in the Cougars’ gritty 17-7 victory over Mountain Vista.

Coach Joe Johnson’s Cherokee Trail team scored 17 unanswered points in the second half and with a boost from a late touchdown and interception from senior Matty Bartels, moved to 2-0 for the second straight season.

Three first-half turnovers — one of which led to a first-quarter touchdown for Mountain Vista, which is in its first season under the guidance of former Cherokee Trail assistant and Eaglecrest interim head coach Garrett Looney — made for a frustrating halftime deficit for Cherokee Trail.

Another lost fumble early in the third quarter gave the Golden Eagles the ball at the Cougars’ 28 yard-line and the hole might have grown larger if not for the big play by Hart, who knocked the ball free from Mountain Vista quarterback Jacob Barrett as he attempted to hand the ball off.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Hart snatched the ball on the bounce and sailed all the way to the end zone to put his team on the scoreboard.

On the ensuing kickoff, Noah Fischbach’s squid kick was recovered by Cherokee Trail’s Donovan Swift and the Cougars got into the red zone on a 14-yard scramble on 4th-and-10 by junior quarterback Jayden Lavigne. They had to settle for Fischbach’s 23-yard field goal, but they had the lead.

From there, Cherokee Trail’s defense — which got good pressure up front from Hart and senior Austin Jandik and a variety of big plays from senior linebacker Julian Williams — kept Mountain Vista from mounting any serious scoring threats.

Hart had a big catch on offense on a drive each in the fourth quarter that ended with Bartels’ 1-yard touchdown run — which came on the next play after the 5-11, 180-pounder moved the pile on a 15-yard gain.

For good measure, Bartels picked off Barrett with two minutes left, then sealed the victory with a tough run on 3rd-and-3 that allowed the Cougars to run out the clock.

Cherokee Trail plays host to Horizon (0-1) at 7 p.m. Sept. 12.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports


Score by quarters:

Cherokee Trail  0  0  10  7 — 17

Mtn. Vista        7  0    0  0 —   7