Brian Howell on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. (Joshua Buck/Times-Call)
Brian Howell on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. (Joshua Buck/Times-Call) (JOSHUA BUCK)

AURORA -- Silver Creek fans chanted, "Raptor Nation!" as the final seconds melted off the clock Saturday at Legacy Stadium, where the Raptors defeated Rifle 32-15 for the Class 3A state football title.

It's a small nation, for sure, but one that has grown during the past 12 years.

It's a nation that not too long ago looked for moral victories, because the Raptors sure weren't picking up actual wins.

In 2001, Silver Creek High School opened its doors. The football team, filled with freshmen and sophomores took their lumps every week. Even opposing JV teams had their way with the new kids on the block.

Head coach Mike Apodaca hasn't forgotten about those kids, and he's made sure the current Raptors know about them, too.

"We were playing for every single other person that had shed any drop of sweat, any drop of blood, anything in the last 12 years that this program has been around," senior Anthony Emberley said. "We've been playing for them and they've paved the way for us."

The Raptors proved on Saturday that Silver Creek does not have a great football team. It has a great football program.

Over the years, the Raptors have slowly built a solid foundation. They eventually made the playoffs, then eventually got a playoff win.

Just one year ago, Silver Creek played in its first state championship game. Those Raptors were loaded with seniors, and great ones. Quarterback Austin Apodaca is now at Washington State, and several others from that team are also playing in college.


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Turnovers, a snowy, cold field and a great Windsor team prevented the 2011 Raptors from reaching the top, though. Silver Creek lost 14-7.

Most thought that was Silver Creek's one shot. At least for a while.

"I knew we missed an opportunity, that's for sure," Mike Apodaca said Saturday.

In hindsight, the lasting legacy of the 2011 team is not that loss to Windsor. The 2011 team was, in fact, the group that let everyone know Silver Creek had arrived.

"I think over 10 or 11 years, we've built this program to a point where we've got kids that are believing in what we're doing and we were going to go to work the next year, and just keep going week to week," Mike Apodaca said.

This year, the Raptors started off a little unsure of themselves.

"There probably was some doubt, especially in the offseason and maybe the first couple of games," Emberley said.

Junior tight end Zane Lindsey, who barely sniffed the field during the 2011 playoffs, knew his JV team was good last year, but he had no idea how the Raptors would replace all the great seniors they lost. Then they went to camp in early June.

"When we went up to football camp in Nebraska, we got our swagger back from last year and we felt like we could do something with this," Lindsey said.

Anyone who looked at the roster during Saturday's championship game was probably surprised to see that many of the key players on this team are juniors, and many of them are first-year varsity players.

Coach Apodaca saw this coming.

"We pulled them aside at the beginning of the season and said, listen we've got 16 or 17 of you playing a huge role this year, you don't get to be juniors," he said. "You've got to be seniors and your growth has got to accelerate and they took that challenge. It's as competitive a class as I've ever been around."

This class would not have walked off the Legacy Stadium turf with a championship trophy, however, had Apodaca and his staff not established a winning culture long ago. This began to build in the early 2000s.

"Being the coach's son, I see my dad working all day every day to make us better," said Andre Apodaca, a junior linebacker whose interception in the final minutes sealed the win. "Their dedication is just amazing. That's part of the reason why we're so good is because they are so dedicated to us."

Today, it seems so long ago that the Raptors were the poor new guys getting beat every week. But, this program has grown up, and it's not going away.

"We're going to celebrate this now, we're going to come back in a couple of weeks and get in the weight room and get better," Lindsey said.

The core of this championship team is back next year, and as long as Mike Apodaca and his staff continue doing what they're doing, there's no telling how many more playoff runs are in the future.

Asked if he was more proud to have a state title or to have a program clicking on all cylinders, Mike Apodaca didn't hesitate to answer, "More proud that we've got something rolling."

Raptor Nation may be small, but it has become a proud and dominant nation in the world of Class 3A football.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.