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Football: Fairview takes Cherry Creek to the brink in 5A quarterfinals

Tom McCartney’s Knights finish 10-2 for third straight season


GREENWOOD VILLAGE – The Fairview football team looked very different on Friday than it did on Thursday.

When the Knights took the field for their Class 5A playoff football game against Cherry Creek at Stutler Bowl on Friday night, they did so without the quarterback that had attempted 416 of the team’s 430 passes this season. This time, it wasn’t injury that kept Aidan Atkinson off the turf.

Atkinson, who holds most of Colorado’s career and single-game passing records, was arrested in connection with a sexual assault investigation and did not play on Friday night. Without Atkinson and already facing an uphill against an undefeated and No. 1-seeded Cherry Creek team, the Knights lost 42-28 at Stutler Bowl and were eliminated in Class 5A quarterfinals for the third straight year.

Fairview Knights wide receiver Grant Page ...
Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Fairview Knights wide receiver Grant Page (23) scrambles down field and score a touchdown against Cherry Creek Bruins Cooper Dyce (27) in the first quarter of the 5A Colorado State High School football quarterfinal playoff game at the Stutler Bowl Nov. 22, 2019.

“It was a good fight,” junior quarterback Liam O’Brien said. “We put it to them and held it close for the first three quarters. They pulled away but it was a good fight. Our team knows how to face adversity. We’ve had so many players go down and we’ve had so much adversity this whole year, but we know how to turn things around and put it all aside when we step on the field.”

Starting at quarterback for the eighth-seeded Knights (10-2), O’Brien threw for 662 yards last season and had completed just nine of 14 passing attempts for 94 yards while appearing in five 2019 games prior to Friday night. In his first start of the season, O’Brien completed 18 of 29 pass attempts for 280 yards and four touchdowns against the No. 1 seed Bruins.

Following a first score from Cherry Creek (12-0), the Knights scored 20 unanswered points in the first half. Courtesy of a blocked point-after try and a pair of unanswered scores, however, the Bruins led 21-20 at halftime.

“When you’re up 20-7 and 20-14, you want to go in (to halftime) with the lead there,” Knights head coach Tom McCartney said. “So that’s frustrating. I didn’t do a good job with clock management there at the end of the first half. Then the difference in the second half was an interception return and a punt return. We knew that player was a great player so we just needed to be a little bit better in those situations.”

O’Brien threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to David Howlett and ran in a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28-28 with 6 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter. The Bruins retook the lead with 9:05 left in the fourth quarter when Myles Purchase, who also returned an interception for a score on the opening drive of the third, returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown.

Jayle Stacks, who rushed for 185 of Cherry Creek’s 287 yards on the ground, added some cushion with a goal-line dive that put the Bruins up two scores with 4:58 remaining.

Knights senior Henry Blackburn caught two touchdown passes and was all over the place on defense. Grant Page and Howlett caught the others.

The Knights defeated No. 9 Cherokee Trail, 36-34, in the first second round of the state tournament after receiving a first-round bye. Cherry Creek will play the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinals between No. 4 Regis Jesuit and No. 5 Pomona in the semifinals.

Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Fairview Knights quarterback Liam O’Brien (12) throws under pressure against the Cheery Creek Bruins in the first quarter of the 5A Colorado State High School football quarterfinal playoff game at the Stutler Bowl Nov. 22, 2019.