COLORADO SPRINGS -- Harrison High School is the second oldest school in Colorado Springs.
But in all their years, the Panthers have never tasted success on the gridiron. In fact, their last league title before this magical 2018 season was back in the 1960's. The stars have aligned for the Panthers and on Friday night in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs at Memorial Field they claimed their first ever playoff victory with a 34-28 win over Holy Family.
Harrison (11-0), seeded No. 5, advances to the quarterfinals against either Palmer Ridge or Pueblo South next week. Holy Family ends its season 7-4.
The Tigers played a dismal first half and watched the quarterback/running back tandem of Orlando Westbrook-Sanchez and Aumiere Shedrick run wild for nearly 200 first-half yards between them. The Panthers were up 20-3 going to the locker room.
It was a different story in the third quarter.
The Tigers got their first defensive stand to start the third quarter and then on their first offensive possession got a 57-yard run from Trevin Johnson to set things up inside the Panthers 10-yard line. Kyle Helbig, who committed to Colorado State earlier in the week, eventually scored from five yards out.
"They are a good team and we knew it was going to be hard to defend them," Holy Family coach Mike D. Gabriel said. "I thought our defense did a good job and our offense woke up. It's just playoff football."
Harrison would answer right back in the third on Shedrick's 49-yard bolt down the sideline. But momentum was clearly on the Tigers side still and it was junior Braedon Peters who kept it going for Holy Family. He returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score that was followed up by an improbable 2-pt. conversion from Cal Carter to Davis Martinek.
The Tigers would cut the lead to 27-21 going to the fourth quarter after Liam Gray kicked his second field goal.
And it would stay that way for a majority of the quarter because the Tigers, who were called for some strange penalties all night long (including four ineligible man downfield penalties — one of which negated a Helbig touchdown reception) couldn't convert in the red zone.
"I preach to the kids that you can control your attitude and your effort and you can't control anything else," said Gabriel of the tough calls. "So you have to play through all that stuff, and we just didn't."
The aforementioned touchdown that was wiped away eventually went from a first-and-goal to a punt and the Panthers got one last score — a Westbrook-Sanchez 62 yard run — to make it a two-score game, 34-21, with 5:13 to play.
"(Shedrick) was more than I thought he would be and the quarterback too," Gabriel said. "They were two of the best players we have seen all year."
Carter, who was playing his first game since Week 4, connected with Helbig on a 14-yard score with 4:30 to play to make it a one score game, but the Panthers were able to run out the clock behind Shedrick (221 yards on 29 carries) and Westbrook-Sanchez (19-152) — including a huge 3rd-and-15 when Seth Fuller hauled in a 42-yard pass from his quarterback.
It was an interesting season for the Tigers, who lose some key pieces but will certainly have plenty of depth coming back next year.
"I'm very, very proud of this group. To go through what they went through last year and to work as hard as they have since February to get where they are, including all the bumps in the road, they've come so far," Gabriel said. "I'm very proud."
Follow BoCoPreps on Twitter: twitter.com/BoCoPreps
Harrison 34, Holy Family 28
At Harrison HSHoly Family (7-4) 3 0 18 7 — 28
Harrison — Orlando Westbrook-Sanchez 17 run (kick failed). Harrison -- Seth Fuller 46 pass from Westbrook-Sanchez (Aumiere Shedrick run). Holy Family -- FG Liam Gray 28.
Harrison — Westbrook-Sanchez 10 run (run failed).
Holy Family — Kyle Helbig 5 run (Gray kick). Harrison -- Shedrick 49 run (run failed). Holy Family -- Braedon Peters 75 kickoff return (Davis Martinek pass from Cal Carter). Holy Family -- FG Gray 27.
Harrison -- Westbrook-Sanchez 62 run (Westbrook-Sanchez run). Holy Family -- Helbig 14 pass from Carter (Gray kick).
RUSHING — Holy Family: Trevin Johnson 8-68, Hayden Strange 8-26, Kyle Helbig 2-10, Braedon Peters 1-3, Cal Carter 3-(minus-19); Harrison: Aumiere Shedrick 29-221, Orlando Westbrook-Sanchez 19-152, Devon Washington 2-9, Romeo Wells 1-2.
PASSING — Holy Family: Carter 8-16-0-185, Helbig 0-2-0-0; Harrison: Westbrook-Sanchez 7-10-0-158.
RECEIVING — Holy Family: Hebig 4-137, Peters 2-33, Devin Doroff 1-11, Ben Nappe 1-4; Harrison: Shedrick 4-66, Seth Fuller 2-88, Jaseim Mitchell 1-10.