LONGMONT — Valor Christian had just stopped Grandview on a two-point conversion attempt and recovered an onside kick to win Saturday's semifinal and advance to the Class 5A state championship game.
As soon as the celebration began to die down, Valor Christian quarterbacks coach J.J. Raterink raced to grab his phone and check how the Skyline football team was doing in the 4A semifinals against Ponderosa. The 37-year-old former arena football player and current high school coach was thrilled to see that the Falcons had won 32-0 and would play Loveland in the 4A state title game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Saturday.
The last time the Falcons played for a state championship was in 1999, and Raterink was the Falcons' quarterback. With the realization that his high school program had finally returned to a title game, many of Raterink's fondest memories rushed back into his head and he couldn't help but be overwhelmed with pride.
"This is all taking me back 19 years ago to that championship week when we were about to play in the title game," Raterink said. "I'm still really good friends with a lot of the guys from the '99 team and I called a bunch of them after that game. They've all kept up with Skyline and they were already talking about putting a group together to come back for the game."
Raterink played four years of college football at the University of Wyoming and 12 years of professional arena league football but still says the most fun he ever had playing the game was in high school at Skyline. No matter where his football career has taken him, he has always felt a deep and lasting attachment to the football program there.
Raterink has stayed in contact with the program and even returned to speak to the Falcons at one point when Kevin Rice was head coach in 2014. He is not alone in that regard, nor is he the only alumnus who has felt his sense of pride in the Skyline football program reinvigorated by its recent success.
As SHS turned things around after winning just two or fewer games in eight of 10 seasons from 2006-15, countless alumni who have since scattered far and wide reunited with the same sense of pride Raterink does. When the Falcons reached the playoffs for the first time last season, alumni continued to take notice. As the Falcons upset their way through this year's 4A state playoffs to reach the title game, proud and rejuvenated alumni like Chico Feltenberger followed along every step of the way and rejoiced on social media after Saturday's momentous victory.
"The past four seasons since coach Silva's arrival at Skyline has really given myself and a lot of other alumni something to be proud of," Feltenberger, who was a standout lineman at Skyline from 2008-11, said. "Following the team through BoCoPreps and watching the growth of this program over the years has given me great pride in being a Falcon. There are several members of the team that I remember being in youth camps that I helped run while I was at Skyline and to see their success, especially this season, brings me great joy. I wish this team all the best against Loveland on Saturday."
Even head coach Mike Silva is himself an alumnus and played for longtime Skyline football coach Bill Isernhagen, who led the Falcons to their program's lone state championship in 1986. Now retired, Isernhagen has been present at 11 of the Falcons' 13 games this season. Scott Sheppers, who was a quarterback in 1986, is one of many alumni who have sent Silva regular messages expressing their excitement and support. More messages and noted remembrances continue to find their way back to Longmont each day from all over the country, and of course from nearby.
These days, in fact, Silva can hardly go out on a walk in Longmont wearing his Skyline gear without drivers-by shouting Skyline slogans like "Wings up" or "Eastmont" out the window. The wave of support this year's Falcons have received is not trivial and has aided the team in generating a sustained momentum that has propelled them to Saturday's title game.
As the No. 9 seed and relative newcomers to the big stage, the Falcons will be undeniable underdogs against No. 2 Loveland on Saturday. But at least one thought they can rely on to give them strength is that countless Falcons who came before them will be watching any way they can, cheering them on.
"It's just been really cool because a lot of those people have reached out," Silva said. "A lot of the alumni are excited to see Skyline back on the map and I hear that over and over again. Our community takes a lot of pride in our school and I think that support has been a big part of what we've been able to build here. It's an exciting time and now it's just a matter of going out there and making them proud one more time on Saturday at Mile High."
Class 4A state championship game
Kickoff: Saturday, 11 a.m., at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
Records: No. 9 Skyline 10-3, No. 2 Loveland 13-0.
Ticket information: Can be purchased online or at the stadium.
Broadcast information: Streamed online at NFHS Network and over the radio on Orange and Blue 760 AM.
Quick hits: In one previous meeting between the two teams this season, Loveland defeated Skyline, 42-14 in Loveland, and claimed the Longs Peak League title ... In that game, the Loveland offense rushed for 466 yards against the Skyline defense ... Loveland has a 28-1 record since Oct. 7, 2016, with its only defeat over that span a 28-27 overtime loss to Broomfield in the second round of the 2017 playoffs ... As the No. 9 seed, Skyline defeated No. 8 Pueblo West, No. 1 Pine Creek and No. 5 Ponderosa to reach the 2018 title game ... As the No. 2 seed, Loveland has defeated No. 15 Rampart, No. 7 Fruita Monument and No. 6 Montrose in the playoffs ... Skyline has won one football championship (3A in 1986) and last played in a title game in 1999, losing 42-6 to Green Mountain in the 4A title game ... Loveland has won six total football championships, most recently winning it all in 2003 ... Loveland last appeared in the 4A title game in 2015, losing 35-14 to Windsor ... Loveland is averaging 41.5 points scored and 5.3 points against through 13 games this season... Skyline is averaging 34 points scored and 22.3 points against ... Loveland's Zach Weinmaster leads all of 4A with 1,892 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns... Skyline's Jeremy Hollinsworth is second in 4A with 1,761 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns ... Skyline quarterback Chase Silva, a sophomore, leads 4A with 2,696 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns ... Skyline's Kyle West leads 4A with 1,285 receiving yards ... Skyline's Jack Wathen leads 4A with 12 receiving touchdowns ... Linebacker Michael Deschene leads Loveland with 9.7 tackles per game and is third in 4A with 158 total tackles ... Linebacker Ethan Drewes leads Skyline with 7.8 tackles per game ... Loveland's Cody Rakowsky leads his team with five interceptions while teammates Weinmaster and Isaiah Meyers each have four ... Will Drewes leads Skyline with four interceptions... The Loveland defense has not allowed a passing touchdown so far in the postseason.
Most recent 4A state championship outcomes
2017: No. 6 Pueblo South defeated No. 1 Pine Creek
2016: No. 3 Pine Creek defeated No. 5 Broomfield
2015: No. 3 Windsor defeated No. 13 Loveland
2014: No. 1 Pine Creek defeated No. 7 Longmont
2013: No. 3 Pine Creek defeated No. 1 Montrose
2012: No. 5 Monarch defeated No. 3 Denver South