AURORA | Houston Harper couldn’t believe he had the football in his hands and the end zone in front of him Thursday night.
The burly Gateway senior defensive lineman had always wanted to score a touchdown in a game, but never had the opportunity.
When it arrived, Harper took advantage, as he plucked the ball out of the air and rumbled 36 yards to the house at Aurora Public Schools Stadium, one of the key blows in the Olys’ come-from-behind 31-13 victory over in a lively contest between Aurora Public Schools programs.
“After my nose tackle hit him (Vista PEAK quarterback Cyshon Brown), the ball flew up in the air and I caught it,” Harper said. “I was so shook, I was like ‘Did I really catch it?’ and after that I didn’t hear a whistle and I thought “run, run, run!” I see 55 (Preston Hoffman) hit somebody and block for me so I kept running and scored. I was too hyped. It felt good, the win felt good.
“I never thought I’d score a touchdown. It was one of my goals, but I never thought I’d get it.”
Much more used to scoring, Gateway senior Kevin Traylor Jr. got into the end zone three times, including twice in the fourth quarter as coach Taylor Calvert’s Olys (2-2) dug all the way out of a 13-point hole against Vista PEAK (1-3) and avenged a 54-25 loss in 2016.
Traylor Jr.’s 68-yard touchdown burst up the middle put Gateway ahead for the first time at 16-13 with 7:48 left and he put the capper on the win with an interception return for a touchdown a minute after Harper’s.
The fourth quarter flurry — which followed a frustrating three quarters filled with sloppy play and missed opportunities —
“That was a lot of fun, I probably haven’t coached that hard in a long time,” Calvert said. “I’m a little lightheaded…A lot of the game was frustrating, but the kids battled through adversity and I’m super proud of them not reverting to something that might have happened in the past when they got behind.
“The fact that we battled through and took the W is huge.”
Traylor Jr. fought through adversity all night as he hadn’t gotten much traction in the run game until the fourth quarter. He hit a home run when it was needed to put his team ahead for good.
“I kept my line confident even though I wasn’t getting any yards; I kept telling them ‘ya’ll good, ya’ll good,’ and then I just broke one,” said Traylor Jr., who finished with 143 yards in 19 carries. “I knew I was going all the way.”
Harper didn’t know he was going all the way, but once he did, he was mobbed on the sidelines by his teammates.
Calvert had to remind his team to curtail its celebration and focus on finishing the final minutes of the game, but afterwards, he allowed himself to relish the big man’s accomplishment.
“Houston will live on that for years and I won’t stop hearing about it until the end of the season,” Calvert said with a grin. “He was in the right position, made the play and took off. It was great and the whole sideline got going.
“We love to see big guys get into the end zone.”
Before Gateway’s fantastic finish, the Olys found themselves behind a Vista PEAK team that scored 46 points in its previous outing and got off to a fast start.
Coach John Sullivan’s Bison went up 13-0 in the first quarter on a pair of touchdown bombs — both on third-and-longs — from senior quarterback Derrick Smashum to junior JJ Augustus and senior Dudley Conner IV.
Augustus hauled in a 60-yard scoring strike on the Bison’s first possession and Conner IV got free for a 53-yard TD on their next series.
Smashum — who threw 40 touchdowns last season — had to be carried off with a right leg injury after rushing for a conversion on fourth down early in the second quarter and he wouldn’t return to the game.
Brown came on an just missed on several long passes, including two that hit Augustus in the fingertips in the end zone, while Vista PEAK also fumbled six times (losing four) as it got little offensive traction.
Next up for Gateway is a showdown with rival Rangeview on Sept. 28 with the Anvil traveling trophy at stake — a game set for 6:30 p.m. at APS Stadium — while Vista PEAK plays on the road at Lutheran at 7 p.m. Sept. 29.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
GATEWAY 31, VISTA PEAK 13
Score by quarters:
Gateway 0 9 0 22 — 31
Vista PEAK 13 0 0 0 — 13
Vista PEAK — JJ Augustus 60 yard pass from Derrick Smashum (Noah Karwacki kick), 6:37
Vista PEAK — Dudley Conner IV 53 yard pass from Smashum (pass failed), 3:47
Gateway — Kevin Traylor Jr. 16 yard run (kick failed), 11:33
Gateway — Alan Barron 20 yard field goal, 0:00
Gateway — Traylor Jr. 68 yard run (Barron kick), 7:48
Gateway — Houston Harper 36 yard interception return (Barron kick), 2:26
Gateway — Traylor Jr. 48 yard interception return (Xavier Delk run)
Gateway: Kevin Traylor Jr. 19-143, Xavier Delk 17-51, Marvon Odunoye 5-7, Daiquan Hill 1-6, Ajonte Manlove 1-(minus 4), Team 1-(minus 23)
Vista PEAK: Tyrese Bailey 19-55, Daniel Smashum 3-17, Ja’Derris Carr-Kersh 4-11, Derrick Smashum 4-10, Ethan Applegate 1-7, Tyshun Hamilton 2-2, Cyshon Brown 6-(minus 30)
Gateway: Delk 4-11, 40 yards
Vista PEAK: Derrick Smashum 5-6, 91 yards, 2 touchdowns; Brown 7-24, 58 yards, 3 interceptions
Gateway: Sulu Gonzales 1-17, Hill 2-16, Trekess Kelley 1-7
Vista PEAK: JJ Augustus 2-66, Dudley Conner IV 1-36, Hamilton 3-30, Bailey 4-14, Daniel Smashum 2-3