DENVER — In the end, after enduring the September flood strife and surviving the nerve-wracking wins that ensued, it simply was too much for the Fairview Knights.
Too much pressure against quarterback Anders Hill. Too much of a deficit on the scoreboard as the game quickly slipped away. And, most damaging, too much Christian McCaffrey.
Unable to perhaps script a more disastrous opening for the Knights’ showdown against Valor Christian in the Class 5A state title game, Fairview saw its memorable season come to a depressing conclusion Saturday, as Valor struck early and often to hand the Knights a 56-16 defeat at Sports Authority Field.
It was the fifth consecutive state title for the Eagles, while Fairview was denied its first championship since 1987.
“We want to focus on the positives,” said Fairview coach Tom McCartney, who led the Knights to the title game for the second time in his 21-year tenure. “We have some special seniors that we want to send off. We’re looking forward to our banquet. We have a lot of things to celebrate.
“We’re really big on respecting the game and respecting our opponent, and Valor was tremendous in every phase. Their players, their coaches … they’ve won five in a row, and good job to them. The reason it got so far out of hand was them. We were ready. We were prepared. We maybe didn’t take care of the ball like we we’re usually do, but you have to give them the credit. They’re the reason.”
After giving up five sacks in the first half of last week’s semifinal win against ThunderRidge, Fairview was unable to contain a ferocious Valor Christian pass rush. Defensively, not only were the Knights unable to contain McCaffrey, who compiled 221 combined yards and four touchdowns, but Eagles quarterback A.J. Cecil dissected the Fairview secondary in a 15 for 16, 245-yard performance.
“They have a lot of great players and I thought our guys fought hard,” Hill said. “Sometimes you just don’t win some battles. Hats off to them, they played a great game.”
Hill suffered the first two of the seven sacks he endured on the game’s opening drive. After Fairview punted, it only took two plays for Valor to get on the board, with Eric Lee taking advantage of the defensive focus on McCaffrey to break loose for a 33-yard touchdown run.
Fairview actually responded with a promising drive, diffusing the Valor pass rush with quick throws to Sam Martin and Cameron Frazier to move into Eagles territory. But on a first-down play, a scrambling Hill unloaded the ball along the sideline. Although it appeared as if Frazier was in the vicinity, Hill was called for an intentional grounding — a spot-foul penalty that cost the Knights a down and a total of 17 yards.
Hill was picked off two plays later, and on Valor’s next snap McCaffrey took a screen pass 65 yards for a touchdown to extend the Eagles’ lead. Fairview never appeared to recover.
“We didn’t get an explanation,” McCartney said. “I think some people get confused maybe with NFL and college rules. We don’t have those rules. We felt he scrambled right, and two of our receivers broke back to the right, and in our opinion it was a pretty easy call that it wasn’t a flag. They, I guess, saw it differently. It did hurt, because it’s a spot foul and it set us way back.
“But we talk about picking ourselves up and being resilient and overcoming things. You have to overcome those things. We didn’t.”
Given the Knights’ inability to get a defensive stop, it may not have mattered. A 1-yard plunge from Fairview’s Daniel Hoskins, followed by a Hill-to-Owen Harris two-point conversion, trimmed Valor’s lead to 21-8 early in the second quarter, but the Eagles answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that McCaffrey capped with his second touchdown. The Knights trailed 42-8 at halftime and a running clock began after Valor added another touchdown on the opening drive of the second half.
While it was a discouraging outcome, the loss failed to damper McCartney’s pride over the Knights’ electric season. Among the positives McCartney likely will focus on is the record-setting performance of receiver Sam Martin — he finished the season with state records of 111 receptions and 1,848 receiving yards — and they way his club responded with several nail-biting wins after dealing with the September floods that directly affected many within the Fairview community.
“This is the best year of my life and I wouldn’t trade the outcome for anything in the world,” Martin said. “Just to be with these guys, and this group of coaches, it’s been amazing and I’m never going to forget it.”
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Valor Christian 56, Fairview 16
At Sports Authority Field
Valor Christian (13-1) 21 21 7 7 — 56
Fairview (12-1) 0 8 0 8 — 16
Valor Christian— Eric Lee 33 run (Paul Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — Christian McCaffrey 65 pass from A.J. Cecil (Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — Marcus Wilson 51 pass from Cecil (Grizzle kick).
Fairview — Daniel Hoskins 1 run (Owen Harris pass from Anders Hill).
Valor Christian — McCaffrey 5 run (Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — McCaffrey 29 run (Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — McCaffrey 4 pass from Cecil (Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — Nathan Whatmore 20 pass from Cecil (Grizzle kick).
Valor Christian — Stone Watson 12 run (Grizzle kick).
Fairview — Sam Martin 16 pass from Hill (Cameron Frazier pass from Hill).
RUSHING — Valor Christian: Christian McCaffrey 12-129, A.J. Cecil 10-65, Eric Lee 1-33, Stone Watson 4-31; Fairview: Jason Harvey 7-13, Sam Martin 1-9, Cameron Frazier 1-3, Daniel Hoskins 1-1.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) — Valor Christian: Cecil 15-16-1, 245; Fairview: Hill 21-43-1, 208.
RECEIVING — Valor Christian: McCaffrey 5-92, Marcus Wilson 3-64, Booker Schelhaas 3-45, Nathan Whatmore 1-20; Fairview: Martin 10-129, Frazier 4-36, Owen Harris 2-28, Savoy Smith 2-8.