4A football semifinals: Thomas Jefferson, Gateway to meet in championship game

(Brad Cochi)

In Friday's first semifinal of the Class 4A football state tournament, No. 6 Gateway continued its run of pulling off late-game upsets with a victory over previously-unbeaten No. 2 Harrison. Then on Saturday afternoon, No. 1 Thomas Jefferson outlasted No. 4 Falcon at All City Stadium.

In next Friday's 4A state championship game, the Gateway Olympians will face the Thomas Jefferson Spartans for the trophy at the CSU-Pueblo Thunderbowl.

(1) Thomas Jefferson 35, (4) Falcon 21

Having already squared off in a season opener that was decided by just three points way back on March 19, both No. 1 Thomas Jefferson and No. 4 Falcon knew their rematch in Saturday's Class 4A semifinals would be a battle.

This time around, as it did in the team's first game of Season C, Thomas Jefferson prevailed.

The top-seeded Spartans pulled ahead early and came up with some timely turnovers on defense to hold off a comeback from Falcon and win 35-21 to punch their ticket to Friday's state championship game. The Thomas Jefferson football team will now have a chance to play for its first state championship since 1989.

"If you would have told me six months ago that we'd be playing in the spring and we'd be contending for state, I'd tell you, 'Nah, you're lying,'" Spartans freshman defensive back Dimitri Haralambopoulos said. "But we here now, baby, and we still need one more. Obviously, we're going to enjoy this moment with my teammates, but just watch out for us next week."

Playing at All City Stadium, the unbeaten Spartans (7-0) pulled out to a 21-0 lead over the Falcons (5-3) in the first quarter on Saturday. The Falcons, however, cut the lead to 28-21 in the fourth quarter.

With 5 minutes, 18 seconds left in the game and the Falcons in possession, the Thomas Jefferson defense forced a fumble that gave the Spartans offense the ball at the Falcon 14-yard line. Two plays later, Spartans senior Jaden Hill punched in his fourth rushing touchdown of the game to give Thomas Jefferson a 14-point lead. The Falcons drove down the field on their next drive but Haralambopoulos intercepted a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone to clinch the victory and state title game berth.

"Our guys on defense did a great job because Falcon is so explosive that they can flip the field, just like we did a few times today," Thomas Jefferson head coach Mike Griebel said. "Darius McFarland is such a great back and I think we did a good job of containing him. He had a couple big runs that got away from us but he didn't just go off today. We were resilient enough to hang in there and we found a way to finish. We had a war with them in Week 1 so we knew it was going to be a tough game and our kids were ready for them."

(Brad Cochi)

(6) Gateway 28, (2) Harrison 21

The Gateway football team has proven itself in big moments throughout this postseason and continues to work its way through the Class 4A state playoffs’ top seeds in Season C.

Fresh off a three-point victory over No. 3 George Washington in the quarterfinals, the No. 6 Olympians (5-3) took down the previously-unbeaten No. 2 Harrison Panthers (7-1), 28-21, in the state semifinals on Friday night. Their latest upset earned the Olympians a chance to play for their program’s first state championship at CSU-Pueblo’s Neta and Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl Stadium on Friday night.

Gateway scored first, returning a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, according to MaxPreps.com. But Harrison’s Kahli Dotison and Davonn Stevens each scored rushing touchdowns to give the Panthers a 13-7 lead. Gateway’s Erick Covington scored on a long run just a few minutes before halftime to send the Olympians into the midway break with a 14-13 advantage.

Covington scored on another long run in the third quarter but Harrison’s Kahar Briggs matched the Olympian’s touchdown to send the game into the fourth quarter knotted at 21-21. A passing touchdown early in the fourth quarter turned out to be the deciding score that sent the Olympians to the 4A title game.

In next Friday's 4A state championship game, the No. 6 Olympians will face No. 1 Thomas Jefferson.

(Courtney Oakes)