LONGMONT -- Although much of the junior class that currently comprises the bulk of the starting lineup for the Silver Creek football team did not see the field during last year's Class 3A state championship game, they certainly remember the aftermath well enough.
It was a dispiriting scene the Raptors would rather not repeat.
Silver Creek will enjoy an opportunity to make up for last year's disappointment as the 10th-seeded Raptors take on top-seeded Rifle on Saturday in the Class 3A title game at Legacy Stadium in southeast Aurora. Although they are the proverbial underdogs this time around against a Rifle team that has rolled through its opponents en route to a 13-0 record, a favored Raptors squad suffered a 14-7 loss against Windsor in last year's finale.
"After the state game and seeing how depressed they were, it has fired me up even more to play harder and play for them," junior running back Josh Quiroz said. "It meant the world to them. They grew up playing together and now they're not with each other anymore. It pumped me up. I know what I have to do to keep winning and keep on chugging."
The youthful Raptors have grown up in a hurry since a midseason lull that saw Silver Creek (11-2) suffer its only losses in consecutive weeks -- a 29-28 loss against Skyline and a 21-14 setback against Roosevelt.
Since then the Raptors have strung together five consecutive wins behind a balanced offense and a defense that has grown increasingly stingy. During its winning streak, Silver Creek has allowed only 9.2 points per game. The Raptors are coming off an excellent defensive game in their semifinal round win against Conifer, and they will need an even better effort against Rifle and its standout running back, Ryan Moeller.
Moeller leads Class 3A with 2,857 rushing yards, which ranks second overall in the state. He has scored 41 rushing touchdowns and 48 total, adding three as a receiver and two apiece on punt returns and interception returns. No player in Colorado in any classification has scored more touchdowns than Moeller.
"We have to stay disciplined and be really physical with him," Silver Creek junior defensive lineman Jared Jacobson said. "We can't get pushed around. We have to stop their running game. We each trust each other to do our jobs, and we had a good defense set up (against Conifer) with a five-front, so we really shut down their gaps. We held the line of scrimmage. We have to win the line of scrimmage again and hopefully stop that fast running back of theirs."
Silver Creek limited a Conifer rushing attack that had been averaging about 328 yards to just 94 during the Raptors' victory in the semifinals. A similar defensive game plan stacked against the run will have to be executed even more perfectly on Saturday in order for Silver Creek to secure its first football state title.
"Without a doubt, all three weeks we've had good rushing teams that we've seen in the playoffs," Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. "This is another one and it just happens to be the best of them all. I think 'shutting down' isn't as important as keeping them off the scoreboard. They're going to get some yards and that sort of thing. At the end of the day we have to keep them out of the end zone. That's the important thing."
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