Harrison survived a severe scare Friday night against Holy Family. That scare could be blessing for a team that will face a massive challenge in the playoffs next week.

The No. 5 seed Panthers escaped with a 34-28 win, barely surviving a spirited rally by the No. 12 Tigers in the second half in the first round of 3A football playoffs at Harrison’s field.

Tough times await. The Panthers will face either the defending 3A state champ (Palmer Ridge) or the defending 4A champ (Pueblo South) in the next round of the playoffs.

Harrison needed a challenge.

Why?

This has been a season of few challenges for the Panthers. They have rolled to an 11-0 record, and in the five games leading up to Friday’s playoff win Harrison had outscored opponents, 249-14.

Running back/defensive lineman Aumiere Shedrick enjoyed a superlative game running the ball.

“We had to overcome adversity,” Shedrick said. “It was something we weren’t used to in the last couple weeks.”

In the first quarter, it looked as if the Panthers would ride to yet another breezy win. They burst to a 14-0 lead behind quarterback Orlando Westbrook-Sanchez’s spectacular play and led 20-3 at the half.

But Holy Family boasts one of the state’s best wide receivers in Kyle Helbig, who terrorized the Panthers secondary all night. With 4:20 left, Helbig scored to cut Harrison’s lead to 32-28. The Tigers had seized momentum. Helbig, tall and swift, has signed to play for Colorado State.

It was still looking shaky with 2:23 left when Harrison faced a 3rd and 15, but Westbrook-Sanchez found Seth Fuller with a 42-yard pass to clinch the victory. The Westbrook-Sanchez to Fuller combination was sizzling for most of the night.

Harrison coach Al Melo, who wore shorts on the cold night, was jubilant after the victory, shouting and hugging fans and coaches and players.

“High school football is never an easy thing,” Melo said. “I’m proud of my kids for battling to the very end.

“It was just good to come out and see somebody physical. Nobody has been that physical with us in a while. It was good that we stepped up and met that challenge.”

Westbrook-Sanchez was happy after the victory, but only kind of. He knows how close Holy Family came to delivering an upset victory.

“We took our foot off the gas, and we’ve got to realize that in the playoffs teams can play the whole game,” Westbrook-Sanchez said. “We can’t stop playing.”

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