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Lindenstein: Raptors believe run has set tone for program

AURORA — As the final seconds ticked away Saturday night at the Class 3A state championship game, fans on the east side of Legacy Stadium chanted “Silver Creek! Silver Creek!”

They had everything but a gold trophy to cheer about.

Windsor upset Silver Creek 14-7 for the title.

The performance wasn’t the best for a Raptors squad that had beaten Windsor 41-21 earlier in the season and had been sharp all fall. Four turnovers proved too much to overcome.

But the effort was one that showed plenty of champion’s guts even in defeat. How could it not with a loaded senior class that had collectively zeroed in on championship dreams in sixth grade?

In a game where momentum and circumstances seemed to keep tipping in Windsor’s favor, a SCHS team lauded by its coach this week for finding different ways to win throughout the season kept bouncing back.

Twice in the first half, Windsor took over the ball on Silver Creek’s side of the field only to turn the ball over on downs to keep the game scoreless.

Things looked bleak again after Windsor finally did break through on one of those short fields to take a 7-0 halftime lead. The Wizards drove to the SCHS 2 early in the third quarter and appeared ready to push the lead to 14-0. But Raptors linebacker Anthony Emberley stuffed running back Jordan Porterfield on fourth down, and the Raptors went 97 yards in six plays to tie the game.

After Windsor took a 14-7 lead and intercepted quarterback Austin Apodaca early in the fourth quarter, the Raptors passed on the panic button again, forcing a punt and giving their offense one more chance at glory.

In the end, the Raptors came up one play, 1 yard, short of a game-tying score and possible title glory.

The squad’s 12-2 season is one that won’t soon be forgotten.

Apodaca captured a town’s attention with his record-chasing right arm. His receiving corps proved exciting and sure-handed all year long. The defense was stout, if not as celebrated as the O.

The Raptors won in overtime. They steamrolled teams. They pulled off late rallies.

A senior class that has carried the program for the past two years is leaving, but those inside believe this is just the beginning. Juniors like Emberley and defensive back Michael Simboski, and sophomores like linebacker Andre Apodaca and defensive end Levi Cecil — not to mention a roster that boasted more than 90 players for the first time — have the team feeling good about the future.

“I have total faith in the guys that are coming up,” senior linebacker Nathan Dunlavy said. “I have no doubt that we’ll make (another) deep run in the playoffs.”

Dunlavy, Apodaca and the rest of their classmates drew up the blueprint for a program that is just 11 years old, never taking a sports season off — whether they were playing other sports and working hard for those or simply making the weight room their second home in the offseason.

The gold trophy eluded their grasp Saturday. But their impact will be felt by the SCHS football program for years to come.

“They always wanted to play for a championship,” said coach Mike Apodaca, Austin’s and Andre’s father. “And they did tonight. And that can’t be forgotten.”