The Valor Christian football team was once again playing in a state championship game on Dec. 1 at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
In that game, Valor completed an undefeated 14-win season and captured its eighth state title in 10 seasons with a 24-14 victory over Cherry Creek.
The only time the Eagles didn't make it to the state finals was last year after losing in the quarterfinals.
Valor, under first-year coach Ed McCaffrey, won its fifth Class 5A tittle after capturing one 3A state crown and two in Class 4A.
In 10 seasons, Valor has compiled a 39-2 record in state playoff action. The Eagles lost in the 2014 state title game to Cherry Creek and were ousted from the playoffs last season by Grandview.
“We won my freshman year and last year we got upset in the quarterfinals,” said junior defensive lineman Roger Rosengarten. “We said this year was a whole new team — hey it's not last year's team. We're going to come back and be the best team in the state. We came back, won the state and it feels great to win.”
Rosengarten and senior linebacker Ethan Zemla led a Valor defensive effort that contained Cherry Creek's offense.
Senior quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who has committed to play at Nebraska, led the Eagles' offense, along with Jack Howell and receiver Kaiden Keefe. McCaffrey, son of the coach, has been part of multiple Valor titles as he either watched or played with older brothers Max, Christian and Dylan.
“This was the best one yet because it's the one that is happening right now,” he said. “These are a great group of guys. We had a ton of guys step up. It was great to see Jack Howell step up. Chase Lopez stepped up and our whole defense played incredible. It was awesome to see everybody do what needed to be done.
“It was awesome to play for my dad. I know my brothers accomplished a lot for this team. For the title game, our coaches had a good game plan to spread the ball out.”
McCaffrey led the offense with his passing and running as he completed 18 of 27 passes for 169 yards, including a perfect 7-yard TD pass to Lopez. He ran for 68 yards and consistently kept plays alive with his elusive moves. Howell finished with 79 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns. Keefe had eight catches for 88 yards.
The defense limited the Bruins to 103 yards rushing and 103 yards passing as Creek averaged just 3.7 yards per offensive play. Zemla had 12 total tackles and was in on two of the six sacks of Bruins' quarterback Alex Padilla.
Valor put together 84- and 67-yard scoring drives to grab an early 14-0 lead.
Creek drove 80 yards in 14 plays with 3:16 left before halftime as Seamus Henderson scored on a 2-yard run. A bad snap for center on the extra point try was picked up by kicker Mac Willis who ran for the two-point conversion to trim the Valor lead to 14-8. Five Valor penalties accounted for 53 yards on the Bruins' scoring drive.
Valor went ahead 21-8 with a 77-yard drive capped by the Lopez catch of a McCaffrey pass with 4:51 to play in the third period.
However, Creek's offense responded with a drive and had the ball at the Valor 23-yard line, but Padilla's pass was tipped by Rosengarten. He pulled down the ball for an interception, and the Eagles turned the turnover into a 24-8 lead with Brian Brogan's 32-yard field goal with 10:35 left in the game.
“We were moving the ball," Cherry Creek coach Dave Logan said. "If we go down and score there, it's 21-15. But when you play in the playoffs and play good teams, you have to play your best football and we congratulate them. They played better than us.”
Rosengarten could sense it was time to make the play of the game.
“I knew I had to make a play for my team," he said. "It was a clutch moment. I tried to get my rush on but their offensive linemen were very good."
Creek (12-2) did manage another score thanks to another Valor mistake on a high snap on a punt, which set up the Bruins at the Valor 18-yard line. Padilla then connected with Vance Brazile on an 18-yard TD pass to account for the final score with 4:58 still showing on the clock.
Padilla, a rival of Luke McCaffrey dating back to youth league games, wound up hitting on 13 of 19 passes for 103 yards and the one TD. Jayle Stacks was the top Bruins rusher with 71 yards on nine carries. Sophomore defensive back Myles Purchase led the defense with nine total tackles and linebacker Alex Pell had eight.
“We mixed up man and zone pass coverage and we knew we had to be strong up front because we would have to stop a powerful run game and we loaded the box at times,” said coach McCaffrey, the former Denver Bronco wide receiver. “We are aggressive on defense and like to pin our ears back, fly around and make plays. It was a great effort and all the credit goes to the kids.”
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