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Lindenstein: Silver Creek football team relishing underdog role

Silver Creek High’s football team stands no chance against the juggernaut Rifle Bears in Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game, right?

After all, the Bears (13-0) have been ranked first for most of the season. They’ve outscored their foes by a staggering 579-75. And only one team has come within 20 points of Rifle.

Want a superstar? Rifle might have 3A’s biggest and brightest.

Running back Ryan Moeller has rushed for 2,857 yards and 41 touchdowns — at a clip of 11.8 yards per carry. He scores once every six times he takes a handoff. And that’s not to mention his 57 tackles — good for third on the team — and 3A-leading eight interceptions on defense.

The Bears sound unstoppable, right?

Well, keep telling the 10th-seeded Raptors (11-2) they’re underdogs. The 2012 SCHS group has kind of taken a liking to the moniker.

“I think our team in its own right, right or wrong, has been in the underdog role all year,” SCHS coach Mike Apodaca said this week. “They just have that mindset that we are the underdog, but have unfinished business.”

How could the Raptors — last year’s state runners-up — not be underdogs after graduating a loaded senior class that featured a Division-I quarterback recruit and numerous other players on both offense and defense?

Since this season began, the Raptors’ mantra has been “Leave your own mark.” They knew they might not be able to eclipse what the 2011 team accomplished, but they wanted to make sure and prove Silver Creek was no one-year wonder either.

If there’s any remnants of last year’s seniors still lingering, it’s a work ethic and business-like approach that was absorbed by the younger players left in the program.

Add to that a chip on the shoulder of every member of the team — particularly this year’s eight seniors — and you’ve got a recipe for a dangerous squad in the postseason, as the Raptors have proven.

But it’s not just emotion and motivation that will be on the Raptors’ side on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Legacy Stadium in Aurora. The Raptors also have a couple of other aspects working in their favor.

For one thing, the weather forecast is calling for 60 degrees and sunshine on Saturday, a far cry from the freeze-fest that pass-happy Silver Creek faced in last year’s title game when Windsor and its ground game won the day.

For another, the one team that gave Rifle a serious challenge this season was Roosevelt, a squad that edged Silver Creek just 21-14 during the regular season. The RoughRiders were driving for a potential game-tying touchdown late in their quarterfinal matchup against Rifle when Moeller sealed the game with a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown.

But the biggest ace up the Raptors’ sleeve might simply be the fact that they’ve been on this stage before. While Rifle’s last state title game appearance came in 2005 when current Bears seniors were in the fifth grade, Silver Creek got the wide-eyed oohs and ahhs out of the way last year.

Apodaca routinely suits up “as many kids as we have uniforms for” for postseason games precisely so the youngsters on the sideline get an up-close vantage point for observing the playoff intensity.

So while many of this year’s Raptors didn’t get on the field in last year’s title game, they were all there for the bus ride down. They know the lay of the land at Legacy Stadium. They were on the sidelines to hear every hit and feel the agony as the final few seconds ticked off the clock. And they’re hungry now.

Just by getting back to this point, these Raptors have made their own mark a more indelible one than anyone could have predicted. Knock off the big, bad Bears, and that mark will become a legacy for the program for years to come.

Said Apodaca: “We’ve played this role all year, and we’re here now and we’ve got a chance.”

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein

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