In 2014, the first time Colorado’s two most accomplished big-school football programs met at Mile High, the title came down to Cherry Creek’s two-point conversion in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter to hand Valor Christian its first-ever postseason defeat.
But there would be no such drama on Saturday in a rematch of the heavyweight Class 5A championship clash, as the Eagles controlled the momentum from the opening kick in a 24-14 victory over Cherry Creek. The win gives Valor Christian its eighth state championship as rookie coach Ed McCaffrey topped his longtime friend, Bruins’ coach Dave Logan.
Valor Christian, clearly the best team in the state on paper heading into the season, wrapped up a perfect 14-0 season with the wire-to-wire win over the Bruins that made the program’s disappointing quarterfinal loss in last year’s playoffs feel like a distant memory.
And while it was the guiding hand of senior quarterback Luke McCaffrey that catalyzed Valor Christian to the title, underclassmen largely dominated the box score for the Eagles in an indication that a repeat forecast for 2019 is not premature.
From the start, the Eagles came out with an equally intense edge on offense and defense as the Bruins looked flat. McCaffrey rolled out on a play-action pass on Valor Christian’s first play from scrimmage and found junior Kaiden Keefe for a big gain, setting the Eagles up near midfield. That initiated a marathon 15-play, 84-yard drive capped by Jack Howell’s four-yard touchdown run to put Valor Christian up 7-0 with 1:35 to play in the first quarter.
Howell and Valor Christian struck again early in the second quarter, when the sophomore ran untouched off tackle and down the sideline for 39 yards and a 14-0 Eagles advantage that silenced the Bruins’ crowd.
Valor Christian came out with its foot on the gas and cashed in on its second possession of the second half when McCaffrey’s perfectly placed 8-yard fade pass found Chase Lopez near the corner of the endzone. That gave the Eagles a 21-7 lead with 4:51 to go in the third.
Class 3A State Championship
Palmer Ridge 47, Pueblo East 38
Colorado Buffaloes recruit Ty Evans threw for 185 yards on 14 of 25 passing and added a touchdown run, while Raef Ruel ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns as Palmer Ridge backed up their 2017 Class 3A title with another down at the Thunderbowl on the campus of Colorado State-Pueblo in Pueblo.
The Bears (12-2) took control of the game in the third quarter by scoring three straight touchdowns, and while Pueblo East — which knocked off Erie in the semifinals — had some fight, Palmer Ridge was not to be denied.
The Eagles, which had won three straight titles from 2014-16, had a lead of 26-21 in the second quarter. They finished 11-3.