4A football: Thomas Jefferson comes back to beat Gateway for title

PUEBLO — A second half comeback and an all-or-nothing 2-point conversion is one way to make a football game dramatic. That's the route that Thomas Jefferson took in its quest for its first football title since 1989.

The Spartans started fast, fell behind by two scores then rallied to to get a 28-27 win over Gateway to win the Season C Class 4A state title.

After taking an early lead, Spartans coach Mike Griebel noted that his team played like it thought it would coast to its first state title since 1989. But he knew better. Gateway had proven through two playoff games that it was a legit title contender and Griebel had to rally his team in the second half after the Spartans (8-0 overall) surrendered three straight touchdowns.

"We thought we had them ready to believe us that this team beat two undefeated teams to get here," Griebel said. "They're not afraid of that. I told our kids that we lost the first half so we had to go out and win the second half."

TJ's defense set the tone early, trying to make as uncomfortable as possible for Gateway quarterback Erick Covington. It succeeded in the first when pressure forced him to fling the ball away. Only It landed in the hands of Jaden Hill. He dashed into the end zone to put the Spartans up 7-0.

Then Covington found his rhythm. He connected on a long touchdown pass to Sh'marre Johnson to tie the game and then found Gabe Broussard to put the Olympians up 14-7.

Johnson broke off a long touchdown run to keep the momentum with Gateway and push the lead to 20-7.

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

The Spartans adjusted at halftime and got a quick touchdown run from Hill and then tied the game on a touchdown run from quarterback Austin Lindegren.

"We just wanted it so much," Hill said. "All the work we put in, everything that we wanted. We put it all in and we wanted to come out, score and do our jobs."

But the Olympians (5-4) weren't just going to go away. With Covington at the controls, they continued to force their way down the field. He was running for first downs and flipping passes ahead to receivers that had sort of a Patrick Mahomes vibe.

Facing a 4th and 3 deep in TJ territory, kicking a field goal was not an option. He took the snap and navigated outside the tackle, running 17 yards for the go-ahead score.

But Thomas Jefferson still felt as if it had all the momentum. Lindegren went right back to work with offense and got the Spartans into the red zone with time ticking away. Hill broke through the offensive line and got into the end zone.

Then it was decision time.

Griebel had a certain plan in his head on whether to go for one or to go for the win. If they scored with around four minutes left, he wouldn't have hesitated to kick the extra point. With two, he was leaning toward the 2-point conversion, giving his team the chance to win the game right then and there.

"It was all on the clock," Griebel said. "If it got down to where it was, I said let's end it now, put the pressure on them and let's see what they got."

This time it was a keeper to Lindegren who found the end zone to give TJ its first lead since it was 7-0 in the first quarter. He then had to watch as the game sat in the hands of the defense for the final two minutes of the game.

"Our defense wasn't too the first part of the game and that's not the TJ team I knew," Lindegren said. "We came out in the second half with a new mentality and that was the TJ team that I had been practicing with."

The defense held up and forced a fumble to get the ball right back in the offense's hands. One kneel down and Denver City Schools officially has its first football championship in 32 years.

(Brad Cochi)