Gaither ran past Hillsborough 21-14 Friday night, shattering the Terriers' dreams of an unbeaten season.
Hillsborough (7-1) entered the game hoping to sustain its 15-game regular-season winning streak and clinch the Class 6A, District 6 title. Gaither (5-2) washed away those hopes with two touchdowns from junior quarterback Steve Hillmon and one from senior fullback Brian Wyatt.
Not only did the Cowboys upset the state's seventh-ranked team, but their victory throws the 6A-6 title up for grabs. Gaither, Hillsborough and Leto all have 3-1 district records with week of district play remaining. Depending on the outcome of those Nov. 4 games, the district could end up in a three-way tie that would be decided in a Kansas tiebreaker.
The Terriers' final chance for victory went awry when Jamall Anderson, who entered the game as the county's leading rusher and scorer, lost his fourth fumble of the night at midfield.
After that fumble, Gaither was able to seal a lead it took with fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Wyatt and Hillmon. Wyatt (13 carries, 129 yards) scored on a 15-yard run five seconds into the final period and Hillmon scored on a six-yard run with 8:58 remaining.
The two have contrasting running styles but both left Hillsborough defenders in their wake on what turned out to be the game-winning drive. Wyatt carried six Terriers on his back enroute to a 13-yard run that gave Gaither a first-and-goal from the 6-yard-line. On the next play, Hillmon darted and dashed through Hillsborough to make the score 21-7. He juked past two defenders and fought through two more to score.
"Wyatt made it a physical ballgame and Hillmon did his job," Gaither coach Joe Seveerino said. "It was just a great team effort."
The Cowboys have played with renewed spirit since losing to Leto 37-7 at Tampa Stadium and narrowly falling to Sarasota Riverview 24-23.
"I think they came in kind of cocky tonight, just we went in against Leto," Wyatt said. "Hillsborough is a great team. But I think one of the factors tonight was we wanted it more than they did."
The Terriers' desire didn't appear to be in question after they fell behind 21-7. Hillsborough went 65 yards on eight plays to narrow the margin to 21-14. Anderson, who rushed for 110 yards on 27 carries, scored on a one-yard plunge. But it wasn't enough to atone for the four fumbles, including one that led to Hillmon's third-quarter tocuhdown.
Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia was one of many to console Anderson after the game.
"I just told him they haven't seen the best of him yet," Garcia said.