After a 1-3 start, which included a 23-16 setback to Pomona, Valor Christian picked up its share of doubters.
But on Dec. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, the Eagles' season concluded in the fashion Valor players, coaches and fans have become accustomed - with a state champhionship.
Valor defeated Pomona 30-14 for the Class 5A crown.
It was the seventh state football title in eight seasons in three different classifications for Valor and the second consecutive championship for the Eagles, who also beat Pomona in last season's state-title contest.
But this edition of the Eagles was distinct, according to Rod Sherman, who has been the Eagles' head coach for the past four seasons and was the offensive coordinator for several previous campaigns.
"One thing as a coach that you want is to be better at the end of the year than you were at the beginning of the year," Sherman said. "If I was the athletic director, I'd probably ask myself why we can't start playing better at the beginning of the year.
"I felt we have come a long way, more than anything, physically. Every single position, we are a lot better now than we were at the beginning of the season. Pomona was a very, very good team. This title was special through the perseverance and diligence (that) we had to show this year."
The Eagles did not drop another game after their Sept. 23 loss to Pomona en route to finishing with an 11-3 record and securing the third seed in the state playoffs. Pomona, the top-seeded team, finished 12-2.
"It feels amazing to win another state championship," said Valor senior Christian Elliss, who plays offense and defense.
Senior Will Rodgers, who like Elliss is part of Valor's linebacking corps, said the Eagles wanted to prove their grit after talk centered on how tough Pomona was at a press conference days before the game.
"Even though we are a Christian school, we're pretty tough, too," Rodgers said. "That was a chip on our shoulders."
Rodgers had three of the six Valor Christian sacks during the game as the Eagles held Pomona to 29 yards rushing. The Eagles' defense, which intercepted three Pomona passes, also had three tackles for losses.
On offense, Valor Christian senior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey completed 8-of-19 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He led the team in rushing with 72 yards on 16 carries and one score.
"It wasn't a perfect game - if there is such a thing as a perfect game," McCaffrey said. "There were things I could have done better, a couple throws I missed here and there. Our offensive line kept battling for running yards and did a good job throughout the whole game, and then defensively, they were amazing. I can't describe how well our defensive line and secondary did."
The Eagles found themselves in an early deficit. Pomona grabbed a 7-0 lead, but then Valor scored twice in just over two minutes before the end of the first quarter and tallied 30 straight points to take a 30-7 lead in the final quarter.
Elliss caught a 61-yard scoring pass for the Eagles' first touchdown and McCaffrey's younger brother Luke hauled in a 5-yard scoring pass for Valor's second touchdown.
Elliss, who rushed for 10 yards, caught two passes for 75 yards and was in on five tackles, had an interception to set up the McCaffrey-to-McCaffrey touchdown.
"I'm not going to roll over, and our team is not going to roll over," Ellis said. "If someone had to give our team momentum, I would do it."
Jack Walley intercepted a pass by Pomona's Ryan Marquez, leading to the Eagles' initial touchdown. Hayden Courier's interception late in the game short circuted any Panther comeback hopes.
Valor Christian gained 312 yards on offense, while holding Pomona to just 209.
"I though we showed really good grit and resolve," Sherman said. "Again, I cannot be more proud of my team for something like that. It was tough to come back, but we showed heart and then, frankly, we controlled the game from the second quarter on."