It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Just ask the Gladstone football team.
The Gladiators fell behind early in their Friday, Oct. 15, game at Crook County High School in Prineville, but finished strong to win 21-15 at Ward Rhoden Stadium.
"It's a long trip on the bus up here and they are a great football team," Gladstone coach Cam Sommer said. "They play so hard. They kind of hit us in the mouth early and we told our kids they are going to do that, settle in and be ready to make plays and they did just that."
"It feels amazing," said Gladstone junior Brayde Owen, who had an interception and a kickoff return for a touchdown. "We just came back in the second half and we played with heart."
With the win, the Gladiators improved to 2-1 in Tri-Valley Conference play and 3-4 overall. Crook County, meanwhile, lost for a second straight time and fell to 1-2 in TVC play and 2-5 overall.
"Even though we lost the football game I told my guys to keep their heads held high," Crook County coach Pard Smith said. "For the first time all year, I think we were the more disciplined team on the field. We were more physical. We executed better for the most part of the game. We just didn't come away with a victory tonight."
The Cowboys started quickly on Friday, with halfback Trent West taking a handoff and then throwing a pass to wide receiver Kyree Willis for a 47-yard pickup to the Gladstone 26-yard line. A roughing penalty moved the ball to the Glads' 13, and four plays later, quarterback Palmer Smith scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 6-0 lead with 10 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
After a Gladstone three-and-out and a short punt, the Cowboys looked like they were going to score again. Three runs moved the ball to the Gladiators' 36, but then Owen stepped up to intercept a Smith pass. Owen streaked down the sideline for what appeared to be a touchdown, but a holding call negated the score and minutes later, Crook County's Dakota Humphreys intercepted a Gladstone pass to end the threat.
The rest of the half showcased the strength of the two defenses and ended with the Cowboys still leading 6-0.
That lead didn't last long into the second half, though. Owen took the third-quarter kickoff at the 13-yard line, stepped to his right, broke a tackle and then streaked 87 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Ayden Hensley was good and Gladiators led 7-6.
"I had great blocks starting off and that just helped ignite the energy and everything," Owen said of the play. "I love my linemen."
The Cowboys came back to retake the lead, with Smith hitting Eddie Freauff for a 32-yard completion to the 18.
A personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Gladstone pushed the ball to the four-yard line, and two plays later, Brayden Duke scored from two yards out to give his team a 12-7 lead with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Gladstone came up empty on its next series, but two plays later, Smith dropped the quarterback snap and Fynn Brechbiel recovered for the Gladiators on the Crook County 28-yard line.
On first down, senior Tate Brechbiel ran up the middle for a touchdown, and while the extra point failed, the Gladiators were back in front 13-12 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.
Once again, the Cowboys responded, driving 48 yards to the Gladstone six before settling for a 23-yard field goal by Gabe Love and a 15-13 lead with 7:23 left in the game.
Undaunted, the Gladiators drove 74 yards to record the winning touchdown. Tate Brechbiel carried three times for 16 yards, and two plays later, Finch connected with Owen for a huge pickup to the Crook County 16 yard-line.
Tate Brechbiel then carried the ball to the three-yard line, and one play later, punched it in with 2:58 left to play. Brechbiel added the two-point conversion run and Gladstone led 21-15.
However, the Cowboys were not done yet.
They drove 57 yards to the Gladstone three-yard line with just under 30 seconds left. From there, the Cowboys went to the air, but Smith's pass was batted into the air and he caught it and was tackled at the 15.
After the Cowboys stopped the clock, facing fourth-and-goal from the 15, Smith had an open receiver in the end zone on the final play, but his pass hit the turf at the five and ended the Cowboys' chances.
"You found a way to win the tough one three hours from home," Sommer told his team following the game. "I'm proud of you, the way you've grown up, battled adversity injuries, all of it. Great job."
Next up, the Gladiators play at Molalla (1-2 in TVC play, 1-5 overall) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.