The Miracle on 11th Street
GHS football wins WSL title in epic thriller
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-10-31
GHS Football — Michael Howard isn’t much of a believer in fate.
Even in hindsight of Friday night’s “Miracle on 11th Street” — in which the Cowboy football team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to beat Olathe, 25-22, on a last second field goal — the Gunnison High (GHS) junior stands firm on the notion that preparation trumps luck in any good competition.
“I feel like you make your own fate,” said Michael, who’s interception gave GHS the ball on their own 22 yard line with 90 seconds left in a tied game. “You practice for those types of events and when the time comes, you have to make your play.”
Just as the Pirates looked like they were ready to sink their dagger into the hearts of the Cowboy faithful, Michael’s number was called. After a pass from Olathe quarterback Taylor Carlson was tipped into the air by GHS sophomore Brady Wilson, Michael reached up and pinned the errant pigskin to his shoulder pad with his left hand.
“They sent me on a blitz, so I was just trying to get my hands up to get a tip,” said Wilson of the game-changing play. “I saw Michael intercept it and my stomach just dropped.”
“It wasn’t a pretty catch, but Jesus,” added Michael.
Nine plays and just more than 86 seconds later, junior Nick Koch chipped home a 21-yard field goal that clinched the Cowboys’ first Western Slope League (WSL) title since 2007 and solidified Friday night’s showdown as an instant classic in the Cowboy archives.
It all started on Sawtooth
In years past, July always meant contact camp for the GHS football team. In July of 2013, the Cowboys decided just to camp.
For three nights and four days, members of this year’s team retreated to a parcel of land just south of Gunnison where they were to do some camping, hike Sawtooth Mountain and talk about their goals for the season to come.
“There was no connection to the outside world,” said senior Taylor Miller. “It brought us a lot closer together because we were forced to stay together all four days and sort out all our differences.”
For a team that had gone 0-9 just one season prior — which was just the second time in program history that GHS has been held winless — coaches called the meeting in order to begin a new chapter.
Led by GHS outdoor education teacher Leo Malloy, players went through team-building exercises and other recreation based challenges. At the end of the camping trip, they came up with what they call their “ground rules.”
The list of 15 rules includes things like “serve each other,” “no cliques,” “ownership” and “no scapegoating.”
“The camping trip is really when we began to see individuals stepping up to take ownership of this team,” said GHS coach Bob Howard. “The biggest difference all season has been that they believe in themselves, they believe in each other and they believe in what we’re trying to do.”
“We came together as one on that hiking trip,” said sophomore Brady Wilson. “When we made it to the top, I felt like we had something special.”
The winning drive
When Michael Howard intercepted Olathe’s pass with 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on Friday, there wasn’t any time for his dad to rejoice about his son making a great play.
“I went immediately into the mode of saying, ‘holy crap, we can win this,’” said Bob Howard. “We still needed to make some plays and there wasn’t much time left.”
With 72 yards in between them and a game-winning score, it was junior Ian O’Banion who stepped up to break the next big play. He took a hand-off at his own 25 yard line, cut back towards the Olathe sideline and streaked ahead to the Olathe 35 yard line.
“It’s something we keep in our back pocket,” O’Banion said of the play. “If you hit it just right, it can be a big play like that.”
A five yard run by Wilson brought the clock down to 40 seconds, but two plays later, GHS faced a fourth down with no other option that to go for it.
That’s when junior quarterback Jake Wallin broke for the first of two fourth down conversions in the waning moments that brought GHS down to the Pirates’ 4 yard line with 3.8 seconds remaining.
“As I dropped back, they covered it well,” said Wallin. I saw a hole in the line and just decided to take it.”
Junior Nick Koch just tried to keep it simple on the 21 yard field goal attempt. He lined the ball up at its place on the right hash, stepped back and just swung his leg.
“I just said to myself, swing your leg,” said Koch.
Olathe was given one second on the clock to return the subsequent kickoff. After four laterals and some scary moments in which they looked like they might break free, the Cowboys finally grounded a Pirate ball carrier and sealed the deal on the “Miracle of 11th Street.”
From zeroes to heroes
With the victory, the Cowboys extended a seven game winning streak to end the regular season at 7-2 overall. It also earned them the No. 6 seed going into the first round of the 16 team Class 2A playoffs.
“I think they’re ready to take the next step,” said coach Bob Howard. “We’ve accomplished a couple of the goals we wanted to, but we haven’t accomplished everything that we set out to do.”
The next step will come this Saturday, when GHS hosts No. 12 Fort Lupton at Cowboy Memorial Stadium. It marks their first playoff appearance since 2007, a season that ended at the hands of the Buena Vista Demons in the first round.
The Fort Lupton Blue Devils (5-4 overall) are making their first trip to the playofss since 2006. Despite losing last week’s regular season finale to top-ranked Brush, 54-8, Howard isn’t underestimating any team that comes out of the highly competitive 2A Patriot League.
“We can’t control what Fort Lupton looks like, or how they play. We can only control what we do,” said Howard. “The five days of practice leading up to the game are the most important part of the process.”
Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. at Cowboy Memorial Stadium. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students. Fans wanting to attend the football game and GHS volleyball games earlier that day will have to pay entry for both events.
(Matt Smith can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)