LAKEWOOD -- When you throw the ball around the field as frequently as the Silver Creek football team has in recent seasons, all while deploying an array of wide-open formations, acquiring certain stereotypes often is unavoidable.
Fair or not, most view the Raptors as a finesse team, one more likely to rely on the big play than bashing their opponents in the mouth. Yet on Saturday Silver Creek proved it can play smash-mouth football with the best of them.
Behind a defense that throttled one of the state's top rushing attacks and an offense that improved steadily after early miscues, the Raptors pulled away for a 24-7 victory against Conifer in a Class 3A state semifinal showdown at Trailblazer Stadium.
"We knew that individual players were really good (for Conifer), but as a team we knew we were even better," Silver Creek defensive lineman Levi Cecil said. "We play as a team. We held our gaps and forced them to make big plays. We knew our players had the talent to not let that happen."
Conifer entered the game averaging 327.8 rushing yards a game behind a two-pronged attack featuring running backs Matthew McClintock and A.J. Eleniewski, both of whom had rushed for more than 1,100 yards apiece this season.
Against the Raptors' hard-hitting defense, that duo found few open lanes. The sixth-seeded Lobos finished with only 93 rushing yards on 35 attempts, and even that total was padded somewhat in the fourth quarter after the Raptors had established their 24-7 lead. Conifer recorded a first down on its second play of the game but earned only one more until the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, when the score remained close, the Lobos had only 54 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
McClintock, Conifer's leading rusher, finished with 23 yards on nine attempts. He entered the game averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
"We really just had to amp everything up," Silver Creek defender Jeremy Metivier said. "Practice this week was really focused. I think we really set our eyes on the prize. We knew this was the game that would get us back to the championship. Once we got our momentum back, we definitely started feeling it."
Conifer took a 7-3 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining in the first half on a quarterback sneak by Thomas Kim, but the Raptors answered with perhaps their most important drive of the season.
Silver Creek quarterback Ben Sjobakken, who earlier tossed just his second interception in 262 attempts this year, went 4 for 4 on a seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive. The junior punctuated the march with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Eric Machmuller with 27.4 seconds remaining that gave the Raptors a 10-7 lead at the break. Silver Creek took the momentum into the locker room and never relinquished it.
While the Lobos wore down throughout the second half, Silver Creek only grew stronger. James Whitmore extended the lead to 17-7 with a 1-yard dive late in the third quarter. And after finding few holes in the Conifer defense through three quarters, running back Josh Quiroz gained 70 of his 135 rushing yards in the fourth, capping the scoring with a 7-yard run.
"Our kids have just been very coachable -- they're a real talented group, but more importantly, they're coachable," Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. "We knew we had to stop the run. We sold out to the run, and we were able to stop a good rushing team."
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Silver Creek 24, Conifer 7
At Trailblazer Stadium
Silver Creek (11-2) 0 10 7 7 -- 24
Conifer (10-3) 0 7 0 0 -- 7
Silver Creek -- Ryan Charles 36-yard field goal.
Conifer -- Thomas Kim 1 run (Travis Tadra kick).
Silver Creek -- Eric Machmuller 21 pass from Ben Sjobakken (Charles kick).
Silver Creek -- James Whitmore 1 run (Charles kick).
Silver Creek -- Josh Quiroz 7 run (Charles kick).
First downs 14 7
Rushes-yards 33-141 35-93
Passing yards 155 49
Comp-Att-Int 15-27-1 8-20-1
Fumbles-Lost 4-3 1-1
Penalties-Yards 6-43 7-70
RUSHING -- Silver Creek: Josh Quiroz 25-135, Ben Sjobakken 4-7, James Whitmore 3-4, Eric Machmuller 1-5; Conifer: A.J. Eleniewski 15-70, Matthew McClintock 9-23, Thomas Kim 11-0.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) -- Silver Creek: Sjobakken 15-27-1, 155; Conifer: Kim 8-20-1 49.
RECEIVING -- Silver Creek: Trey Fleming 4-56, Brock Ricks 5-53, Zane Lindsey 3-11, Machmuller 2-34, Whitmore 1-1; Conifer: Drake Weber 2-16, Hunter Shively 2-13, McClintock 2-16, Eleniewski 3-12.