LONGMONT — Jeff Kloster has never been asked how his heart was doing as much as he was Saturday evening, but the veteran basketball coach couldn't blame any of his friends for inquiring given the proceedings of that afternoon's game.
In an instant 4A Great 8 classic, Kloster's defending champion Longmont Trojans had just won 64-63 to narrowly escape a massive overtime upset on their home floor at the hands of the No. 10-seed Harrison Panthers. It took a game-long chase, a pair of monumentally clutch shots, and no small amount of luck, for the undefeated No. 2 Trojans to save their season.
It was fair to wonder if Kloster's heart had skipped a beat or two during Saturday's chaos. Once the Trojans' return to the Final 4 was secure, Kloster's exhausted ticker filled with admiration for his Trojans squad and its resiliency.
"Getting this win just shows the heart of our group," Kloster said. "They weren't ready for this to be it and they just found a way to win. It's a special group. We saw it last year and we see it again, that intangible factor. You either have it or you don't. This group has it."
Following six lead changes in the first quarter, the Trojans (26-0) trailed the Panthers (21-5) through the middle quarters. The Trojans opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to close the gap and the teams found themselves knotted up at 52-52 with 3 minutes, 31 seconds left in regulation.
With 34 seconds left and with a one-point lead, Harrison stole the ball and sophomore Xavier Sterling dunked it at the other end to give Harrison a 56-53 lead. Then with six seconds left, Longmont senior Oakley Dehning, who hit the game-winner for the Trojans in last winter's Class 4A championship game, hit a corner 3-pointer to tie the game up and send the game to overtime.
"We knew they were a tough team but they really brought it," Dehning said. "It was just an amazing game. Even when we started hitting our shots, it felt like it was tough to make up any ground. We just clawed and fought and did everything we did to get back in it."
Things didn't get any easier once the Trojans dragged themselves back into Saturday's game. Down two in the closing moments of overtime, Longmont's Beck Page, who leads with Trojans with 14.4 points per game but had been cold from long range in the contest, hit a straightaway 3-pointer to put the Trojans up one with 15 seconds left.
"We just came together as a team and pulled it out in the end," Page said. "I'm proud of our guys. I just stayed confident in my shot. It wasn't falling for me in the first half but I knew my teammates believed in me, coach believed in me, and I knew that if I got the opportunity, I was going to knock it down.
"The opportunity came and, sure enough, I knocked it down for my team."
The Trojans followed Page's clutch shot with a stop at the other end but as Dehning was intentionally fouled with eight-tenths of a second left on the clock, the Longmont student section was called for a technical foul after running onto the floor.
Dehning made one of two free throws and Harrison sophomore Terrence "Donta" Dawson, who led all scorers with 25 points, stepped to the line for a pair of free throws and a chance to tie the game. He made the first but missed the second, and the Trojans survived.
Page led the Trojans with 15 points and senior point guard Brady Renck (11.3 ppg) finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Longmont's Calvin Seamons (12.8 ppg) scored 10 points and converted a three-point play early in the fourth quarter that sparked the Trojans' run.
The defending champions haven't lost in their last 31 games dating back to Feb. 17 of last year. Even after Friday's one-point victory, the Trojans' 26 wins this season have come by an average margin of 27.2 points.
Saturday's game was the Trojans' closest since they went into overtime with Greeley Central on Feb. 13.
"Every time we would make a run to cut the lead, they would make a run," Kloster said. "Harrison is a really good team. They hit shots and they crashed the boards. I could sense a little bit of dejection when we were in a timeout and I told them they just needed to continue to work hard for each other and make sure they continued to play defense as hard as we could.
"We missed some free throws but because we were aggressive, we got to the line time and time again, and we made some when we needed to. Then we hit some crucial shots."
Longmont moves on to face No. 14 Pueblo East (17-9) in the Final 4 next Friday. Game time at the Denver Coliseum is set for 5:30 p.m.
Longmont 64, Harrison 63 (OT)
At Longmont H.S.
Westbrook-Sanchez III 6 0-0 15, Shedrick 4 1-2 9, Franck 1 0-0 2, Archuleta 1 0-0 2, Sterling 4 0-0 8, Hoffman 0 0-0 0, Scippio 1 0-0 2, Martin 0 0-0 0, Dawson 11 1-3 25. Totals 28 2-5 63.
Schneider 2 1-2 5, Renck 4 2-7 10, Elkins 1 0-0 2, Dye 3 3-5 9, Dehning 3 1-2 10, Page 4 5-6 15, Seamons 5 3-3 13. Totals 22 15-25 64.
Score by quarters:Harrison 12 17 20 7 7 — 63
3-point field goals — Harrison (5): Westbrook-Sanchez III 3, Dawson 2; Longmont (5): Dehning 3, Page 2. Total fouls — Harrison 22, Longmont 10. Technical fouls — Longmont crowd.
Longmont's streak is still alive
The defending champions haven't lost in their last 31 games dating back to Feb. 17 of last year. Even after Saturday's one-point victory, the Trojans' 26 wins this season have come by an average margin of 27.2 points.