May 15—Jaden Hill refused for his team to lose.
The powerful Thomas Jefferson High School football player willed his team to the Class 4A state football championship on both sides of the ball.
The Spartans defeated upstart Gateway 28-27 on Friday night at the Neta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.
It marked TJs third state crown and first since 1989. The Spartans finished 8-0.
Gateway, attempting to win its first state title in any boys sport, fell to 5-4 after upsetting two previously unbeaten teams in George Washington and Harrison in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Trailing 20-7 at halftime, Thomas Jefferson unleashed Hill, who had scored the Spartans' TD in the first half with a pick-six from 7 yards out.
Hill, at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, had 47 yards on the ground on six carries in the first half. He went wild in the final two quarters.
On TJs first drive of the third quarter, he polished off a 55-yard march with an 18-yard run that pulled the Spartans to within 20-13.
Then, with the Olympians leading 27-20 late in the fourth quarter, he bulled in from 7 yards to pull the Spartans to within 27-26 with 2:01 left in regulation.
Thomas Jefferson opted to go for a 2-point conversion and quarterback Austin Lindegren found the end zone to give TJ the lead. It held up and the Spartan community celebrated.
Hill, who averaged 9 yards a carry coming into the game finished with 145 yards on 17 carries and two scores. He is headed to Grambling to play baseball.
"We came in the locker room talking about let's make history," Hill said. "They told me to put them on my back. I just did what they said, we pushed together to be great.
"Every time I touched the ball I'm trying to go to the house, every time I'm trying to go to the crib, first down, whatever it is to help my team. I couldn't do it without the offensive line."
Thomas Jefferson head coach Mike Griebel couldn't say enough about his big back.
"He played possessed," Griebel said. "He's such a good athlete. He can do anything you ask. Our problem was trying to get him off the field and get him a rest."
Griebel then commented about why he went for two points and the win instead of tying the game with an extra point.
"It was all on the clock," Griebel said. "If we scored with four minutes we were going to kick the extra point and get the ball back and kick a field goal or something. If it got down to two minutes, which it did, we were going to go for two and put the pressure on them.
"It was all about the clock. We had the play call already. We just didn't know what the time would be."
Griebel said a halftime speech helped motivate his team.
"We thought we had them ready," he said. "This team beat two undefeated teams to get here. I told the kids at halftime, we lost the first half and win the second half.
"We lit a fire under them and we challenged our offensive line and they came out like a different team."
Chieftain senior sports reporter Jeff Letofsky can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeffletofsky