Throughout the 2019 football season few teams have experienced a roller coaster of emotions quite like Olympia.
The Titans started the season with a three game losing streak, then won three in a row and then lost three in a row before taking out Gateway in a 20-16 win on senior night Friday, Nov. 1.
Such highs and lows can be tough, but the lessons learned shouldn’t be ignored, said Titans head coach Travis Gabriel.
“When you go through ups and downs, what it does is it makes you a better man,” said Gabriel in a postgame speech. “The beautiful thing about football is if you stick with it for as long as you can, it makes you a better man — period. You’re going to go through ups and downs in the course of a game and a season, and it’s all about how do you finish that race.”
Gabriel’s Titans (4-6) would rally and finish the game strong, but it wasn’t without its struggles.
Gateway (0-10) would start off the night’s scoring about seven minutes into the game as Philip Bangura reeled off a 19-yard touchdown run, before Bangura found Jerry Wright III for the two-point conversion to give the Panthers the early 8-0 lead.
Despite Olympia’s offense finding its mojo on the second drive, the Titans would stall out inside the Panthers’ 20 before Colby Kintner missed a field goal.
Both teams would exchange empty possessions before the Titans finally got on the board thanks to a bomb tossed by Letrell Bryant — who came out to start the second quarter — to Isaiah Davis. The extra point cut the Panthers’ lead to 8-7 with 8:58 left in the half.
"You’re going to go through ups and downs in the course of a game and a season, and it’s all about how do you finish that race.”
— Travis Gabriel, Olympia head coach
The last score of the half for either team came at the worst of times for the Titans.
Late in the second quarter, after driving deep into Panthers’ territory, quarterback Garrett Velin threw the ball right to Bangura — who returned the interception for an 83-yard pick-six as time expired. The following two-point conversion extended the Panthers’ lead to 16-7 going into the break.
“We knew what needed to be done, and so I just challenged them to go out in the second half and dominate,” Gabriel said. “We give them a touchdown going into halftime and I think that just motivated them to come out and play harder.
“But that has been the story of our season — we get there and then we find a way to push ourselves back,” he said. “But tonight they just refused to give up and they kept fighting.”
The Titans stepped up immediately after the half, with the defense forcing Gateway into a three and out to start the third quarter. Unfortunately, the Titans’ offense would follow up the strong defensive start by once again stalling out — forcing Kintner to try for a 45 yard field goal that fell short.
Things would ramp up for the Titans, however, just five minutes later when senior running back/receiver Donrick Means II capped off a solid drive with a 9-yard rushing touchdown. The extra point would cut the Gateway lead to 16-14 with 3:08 left in the third.
For a senior like Means, the touchdown was a sort of going away present — one that came when his team needed it the most.
“I was feeling very confident — last game of the season, you have to go out with a bang,” Means said. “This is my last ride, so I had to come out here with a chip on my shoulder and get this win for my guys.”
That touchdown would ignite the Titans on both sides of the ball, and it could be felt on the Olympia sideline.
As the momentum shifted toward Olympia’s favor, the Titans’ defense spent the rest of the game shutting out the Panthers’ offense, while the Titans’ offense would complete the rally early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Velin. The extra point would be bobbled away, but the touchdown ultimately sealed up the win for the Titans on senior night.
“The thing that I liked was that they kept fighting,” Gabriel said. “They could have found a reason to just say, ‘It’s over,’ but they kept fighting.”