Cherry Creek High won its third consecutive Class 5A state football championship on Dec. 4 at Empower Field at Mile High, but this title was exceptional.
Creek came into the game as the underdog in the minds of most people and was going against a Valor Christian team that was dominant, unbeaten and had its way against most of the Highlands Ranch school’s previous 13 opponents.
But Creek used a 21-point first half performance and the Bruins’ defense contained Valor’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense in a 21-0 victory which marked the school’s 12th overall state football title.
“We were really motivated,” said Creek junior linebacker Henry Lamar. “We had a lot of energy coming into this game. We felt like we were really underrated and everybody felt Valor was just going to run all over us but we felt we had one of the best defenses in the state and we proved it.”
It was the 10th state championship for the Greenwood Village school’s 67-year-old head coach, Dave Logan. He’s won four at Creek, four at Mullen and one each at Chatfield and Arvada West.
The Bruins and Eagles have now played in three of the past four state title games. Valor won 24-14 in 2018 and Creek took the crown in 2020 with a 21-0 shutout in Pueblo.
“It never gets old,” said Logan, a former Denver Bronco. “Valor is so well-schooled in what they do. They play at such a high tempo it is hard to simulate in practice. I’ve never been more proud of a team.
“We lost 35 seniors from last year’s team,” he added. “The team out there today was underclass heavy. You have to earn what you get. We knew this was a great challenge. They have dominated people with that running game. I’m proud of our defense and then offensively we were able to hammer out, move the ball a little bit, stay on the field and not turn the ball over.”
Creek, which managed 193 yards in offense, used three big plays to get the lead and the defense took care of the rest. The Bruins held the Eagles offense, which averaged 41 points a game in winning its first 13 games, to 278 total yards.
Cherry Creek’s defense kept a wrap on prominent Eagles running back Gavin Sawchuck, who finished with 77 yards on 29 carries. Sawchuck finished the season with a school record 2,004 yards rushing which was helped by the 350 yards he gained in the previous two playoff games.
Creek Quarterback Christian Hammond — younger brother of Julian, who led the Bruins to titles in 2019 and 2020 — completed 10 of 11 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. He found Maxwell Rodriquez for a 21-yard scoring pass to open the scoring and then avoided a Valor pass rush and hit Ismael Cisse for a 39-yard TD. That play swelled Creek’s lead to 21-0 with 2:41 left in the second quarter.
In between, Lamar picked off a pass from Valor quarterback Colton Allen and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. It was one of three interceptions three interceptions for the Creek defense. Tyler Tolbert and Blake Purchase had the other Creek interceptions.
“We’re really young and I’m proud of every team but certainly proud of the effort we gave against Valor,” said Logan, whose team was 12-2 this year. “We beat a really good team. I though we we were really efficient,”
Hammond had plenty to say about the Bruins’ defense and he talked about his ability to elude a swarming pass rush and hit Cisse with a TD pass
“The defense was huge,” said Hammond. “To get a pick six and multiple turnovers it gave us really good spots on the field.
“My second TD pass was a designed screen and I was going to go to that, but the rush kind of got there, so I tried to make something happen,” he added about the TD pass to Cisse. “I started running out and tried to keep my eyes on the field and I looked and saw Ismael wide open.
“It crazy how I feel,” he continued.”I can’t really explain it. It’s a really good feeling especially since no one believe we could really do this.”
Purchase, a junior and younger brother of last season’s do-it-all defender Myles, led the Bruins with 10 tackles while sophomore Angelo Petrides and Lamar each had eight.
Valor’s defense was led by Jordan Norwood with 17 tackles and one sack.
Donnie Yantis is now 20-2 in his two years as Valor’s head coach; both losses came to Cherry Creek.
“It was a tough game and we couldn’t get much going on offense,” said Yantis. “The defense played well. Credit to coach Logan and his Cherry Creek program. They were the better team. The result is not what we wanted, but I’m proud of our team including our 29 seniors. It was a blessing to coach those young men.”
Yantis added: “We’re really young and I’m proud of every team but certainly proud of the effort we gave today. We beat a really good team. This is a team that had not been beaten and lost only one game in the past two years. I though we we were really efficient. Their defense is magnificent and we (knew) this was not going to be a 41-38 game.”