By Landan Kuhlmann
The Hightower football team did not have its head coach, who was quarantining at home as the result of COVID-19 contact tracing. The Hurricanes also did not have a chance, at least in the eyes of some outside the program.
Now, however, they have a long-awaited playoff win and a date in the second round after a year filled with adversity both on and off the field.
Hightower pulled off a shocker in last Friday’s bi-district playoff game against previously undefeated Port Arthur Memorial, beating the Titans in a 41-34 thriller that came down to the final minute. It was the first playoff win since 2013 for the Hurricanes (4-4), who advanced to play Pflugerville Hendrickson in a Class 5A Division I area-round matchup at 7 p.m. Friday at Waller ISD Stadium.
“Let’s go! We did it – curse over!” Hightower coach Joseph Sam said in a video posted to Twitter shortly after the upset win.
Sam said Monday that he self-quarantined during the game after being potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19. He said he has not experienced any COVID-19 symptoms in the days since being informed last week.
Sam said Monday that he does not know if he’ll be able to coach in this week’s game.
“I have to sit and wait it out and see what the process is for me to come back. I’m symptom-free as far as I know,” he said. “I was able to be there for the preparation part, just not for the execution of it.”
Sam said the team endured a delayed start to the season due to COVID-19 and played through the loss of teammate Trey Thomas, who died unexpectedly over the summer due to what was called an “unfortunate medical emergency” according to a June report from KHOU.
“Just to see the kids fight through all of that and get the win is a testament to their resiliency on getting the job done,” Sam said.
Leading the way for the Hurricanes in their win against Memorial was running back Charles Shelling, who took over the game early and didn’t give it back. The senior ran for a career-high 233 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring runs of 55 and 67 yards.
Quarterback and UTEP commit Jakolby Longino accounted for 178 yards and three total touchdowns – including what ultimately proved to be the final blow in a back-and-forth game that never saw either team lead by more than 13 points.
After Memorial tied the game with a little more than a minute to go, Longino proceeded to find leading receiver Kaleb Johnson streaking down the sideline for a 51-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left to shock the Titans and end Hightower’s playoff drought. Johnson caught both of Longino’s scoring tosses in the game.
“It was good to bring (that bi-district trophy) home to the community,” Sam said. “That’s a big deal.”