COLORADO SPRINGS — Even good football programs have down years, but the best programs are never down for long.
Silver Creek has proven itself to be one of Colorado's great programs over the past six years. And after winning just three games in 2015, the Raptors rebounded miraculously this season to put together an undefeated streak of 12 wins and reach the Class 3A state semifinals.
That undefeated run ended in a 17-7 semifinal loss to top-seeded Discovery Canyon on Saturday. But for the Raptors, whose predecessors played in three consecutive state title games from 2011-13, reestablishing themselves as championship contenders provided a silver lining to the defeat.
"It feels good just to be back on the winning side," Raptors captain George Ramirez said. "This one hurts because we've been dreaming about this ever since middle school but we knew we were special this year and we just went out there and played as hard as we could together."
Saturday's game featured 3A's only remaining undefeated teams, both of which averaged over 34.5 points and allowed an average of under 15.2 points through 12 weeks. A scoreless first quarter told attending fans to expect a low-scoring contest. Running back Josh Tomjack gave Discovery Canyon (13-0) the lead with a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter and the Thunder held that lead until halftime.
With 77 yards of total offense on six possessions in the first half, the Raptors (12-1) never advanced the ball further than the Discovery Canyon 29-yard line before halftime. Tailback Andreik Knechtel, who suffered a concussion in the quarterfinals and missed most of the Raptors' win over Lewis-Palmer, got his team on the board with a 39-yard touchdown run that cut the Thunder lead to 14-7 with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
After Knechtel's score, however, the Thunder's clock-eating triple option offense found its rhythm and answered with an 18-play drive that spanned 7:28 and ended in a field goal for a 17-7 lead. The Raptors punted on their next drive and the Thunder strung together another 13 plays to run out the rest of the fourth quarter.
"Discovery Canyon is a good team and there's a reason they're 13-0," Raptors head coach Mike Apodaca said. "At the end of the day, especially against a good ball-control team like that, you have to limit things like turnovers. We didn't and it just wasn't our day."
The Raptors turned the ball over once on downs and three times on interceptions, giving the Thunder offense short fields of 40 yards or less on both of its touchdown drives. The Thunder will face two-time defending champion Pueblo East in the title game.
Apodaca said the season-ending loss will sting for some time but the 2016 Raptors should eventually be able to look back on their season as a resounding success.
"I just can't say enough about these kids and these coaches," Apodaca said. "They enjoy playing together so much that they were going to get every week they could out of this season. They did and I couldn't be more proud of this group."
Discovery Canyon 17, Silver Creek 7
At District 20 StadiumSilver Creek 0 0 7 0 — 7
Discovery Canyon 0 7 7 3 — 17
Discovery Canyon — Josh Tomjack 3 run (Ryan Clancy kick).
Discovery Canyon — Colt O'Connell 1 run (Cory Gurnett kick). Silver Creek — Andreik Knechtel 39 run (Coltan Grabau kick).
Discovery Canyon — Cory Gurnett 22 field goal.
RUSHING — Silver Creek: Andreik Knechtel 10-67, George Ramirez 4-37, Dylan Ordway 1-(-9). Discovery Canyon: Josh Tomjack 19-126, Colt O'Connell 20-93, Tyler McFarland 11-34, Trevor Ivy 10-29, Scott Barnhart 1-0, Sam Mitchell 1-(-9).
PASSING — Silver Creek: Dylan Ordway 14-28-3-104. Discovery Canyon: Tyler McFarland 2-5-1-23.
RECEIVING — Silver Creek: Khari Harrison 7-67, George Ramirez 4-15, TJ Blazon 2-16, Joe Roth-Bogrett 2-6. Discovery Canyon: Josh Tomjack 1-16, Sterling Watkins 1-7.