The Westerville Central High School football team might have thought it had seen the last of Justus Harris when he hobbled off the field after the first play of the third quarter in a great deal of pain.
Few athletes in any sport return from leg cramps to excel, but Harris did more than return. He dominated.
Harris, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries to lead Gahanna to a 24-3 victory on Aug. 25 before a near capacity crowd at Warhawk Field at Central.
It was the second straight season the Lions opened with a victory over the Warhawks.
“We knew Justus was that kind of running back — he is athletic, has great vision and is strong,” Gahanna coach Bruce Ward said. “He came back and finished the deal. That’s what we preach and that’s what we like.”
Harris carried five times, including on a 4-yard touchdown run, during a seven-play drive that gave Gahanna a 17-3 lead with 8:01 left to play.
He was the focal point again in carrying five times on a 58-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown reception by Jerome Buckner on a pass from quarterback Mike Lowery with 2:26 remaining.
“I had the support of my coaches and team and my mom gave me some pickle juice, and that really helped me come back and play,” Harris said. “I couldn’t have done anything without my line tonight. I saw the holes and ran through them. We’ve got a new offensive line coach (Kyle Stoudt), and he has been working hard with a young line.”
The Lions came up with two interceptions by Cameren Carlisle and one by Davion Bryan. A personal foul nullified a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by Carlisle.
What finally got Gahanna into rhythm was the rugged running game.
“The key was that we saw we had them beaten in the first half, and what we had to do was come out and finish it,” senior left offensive tackle and captain Mason Helsel. “We definitely wore them down. We ran down their throat. We had to keep pounding at them. We had to go harder and finish blocks.”
Westerville Central scored first on a 31-yard field goal by Jacob Borcilla with four minutes left in the quarter. The eight-play drive was set up when linebacker Ashton Gilkey stripped Lowery of the ball and Dontay Hunter recovered at the Lions 48.
Gahanna answered with a 30-yard field goal by Kobie Stillwell with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
The Lions perked up when receiver David Miller briefly replaced Lowery with 7:09 left in the half and led an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive capped by a 4-yard run by Harris to make it 10-3.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final GAHANNA LINCOLN
0 10 0 14 24 WESTERVILLE CENTRAL
3 0 0 0 3