AURORA -- Silver Creek football coach Mike Apodaca never wavered in his insistence that the 2012 Silver Creek football team would not be mired in a rebuilding situation after reaching the state final a year ago.
Still, a state championship? After losing an all-state quarterback and a number of other seniors that helped build the Raptors into an elite Class 3A power? Few pegged Silver Creek as a championship contender in 2012. Apodaca was never in that minority, a fact he was reminded of in the immediate aftermath of Silver Creek's 32-15 win Saturday against Rifle in the 3A championship game.
"The first half of the season, we were playing off the emotion of last year's group," Apodaca said. "And that's not a bad thing. Actually, it was a great thing. But that emotion didn't carry through that middle stretch.
"I remember saying (in the preseason) that 'Give me 10 weeks with this group and let's see where we're at.' I knew we had potential, but I knew it would take a long way. Ironically, it took all 14 weeks."
One of the factors that thwarted Silver Creek in its championship game defeat a year ago was turnovers. The Raptors committed three without forcing any in a 14-7 loss last year against Windsor. They reversed that trend Saturday against Rifle.
Silver Creek did not commit a single turnover and forced four out of the Bears, recording three interceptions and recovering a fumble by Bears quarterback Adam Rice after he was sacked by Raptors senior Robert Teinken late in the first half.
That fumble, which was recovered by Jeremy Metivier, proved crucial, as it led to a 50-yard field goal by Ryan Charles on the final play of the half that gave the Raptors a 17-7 edge at the break.
"We wanted to come out and play better than them, and stopping the run was our main priority," defensive lineman Levi Cecil said. "But we needed to stop the pass too, and we did that."
Collin Gibbs, Ross Fitzgerald, and Andre Apodaca recorded interceptions for Silver Creek. Fitzgerald's was his eighth of the season, establishing a Raptors single-season record and pulling him even with Rifle's Ryan Moeller for the most this season in Class 3A. Fittingly enough, Fitzgerald recorded his milestone pick on an ill-advised halfback pass thrown by Moeller.
"I can't even describe this, especially breaking the school record for picks," said Fitzgerald, a junior who had never played high school football before this season. "This has just been an incredible run and I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Once again, Josh Quiroz played the role of workhorse for the Silver Creek offense.
Last week, the junior running back struggled for room during the first three quarters in a semifinal-round win against Conifer before exploding for 70 yards in the fourth quarter. Quiroz turned in a similar effort in Saturday's win against Rifle in the 3A title game. After gaining just 10 yards on his first five carries, Quiroz's next five carries were good for 56 yards. He finished with 86 rushing yards on 17 carries, and his average of 5.1 yards per carry topped the average put together by Rifle's Moeller, the state's top rusher in 3A.
"Josh is just a warrior," coach Mike Apodaca said. "As other teams get tired he just keeps going, and it wears you down."
SPECIAL TEAMS STANDOUTS
A few key plays on special teams led to key shifts in momentum for Silver Creek.
Kicker Ryan Charles booted a pair of long field goals, blasting a 50-yarder on the final play of the half and adding a 43-yarder early in the second half.
On Silver Creek's possession before Charles' 50-yard field goal, Fitzgerald caught a Raptors punt in stride to down the ball at the Rifle 5-yard line. The field position proved crucial, as Metivier's fumble recovery a few minutes later gave Charles an opportunity for his half-closing blast.
When Charles was unable to record a touchback on the second-half kickoff, Raptors junior Scott Platt made an impressive diving tackle to pin Rifle at its 14-yard line. A short punt by the Bears moments later set up Charles for his second field goal.
Raptors quarterback Ben Sjobakken ended the season having thrown just two interceptions in 314 attempts. ... Rifle's defense entered the game as the owner of six shutouts while allowing just 5.8 points a game. Silver Creek topped that average with a touchdown on its opening drive.
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