Top-seeded and undefeated Valor Christian took advantage of good field position and rolled to a 34-7 victory over ThunderRidge on Nov. 16 in a Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game.
The Eagles, 12-0, will face Grandview in the semifinals.
ThunderRidge, seeded eighth, ended with a 9-3 record, which was the most wins in a season since 2013 when the Grizzlies went 11-2.
Freshman Gavin Sawchuk tallied five touchdowns for the Eagles to finish scoring drives, the longest of which was 45 yards.
“We had good blocking so we were able to punch it in on those close situations,” said Sawchuk, who has rushed for 525 of his season total of 542 yards in the past three games. “I didn't really realize I had five touchdowns until the end of the game when my teammates congratulated me on it. It felt good.”
Sawchuk's playing time has increased since senior Joshia Davis, who has committed to play for the University of Colorado, has been hampered by an injury and didn't suit up for the quarterfinal game.
Valor used two poor ThunderRidge punts of 16 and 25 yards and a 25-yard punt return by Chase Lopez to set up first-half TD drives of 32, 37 and 45 yards to grab a 21-7 halftime lead.
“We just had to capitalize,” said senior quarterback Luke McCaffrey. “It's a credit to our defense. They have been playing well all year. It's something exciting to watch, how aggressive we are and how excited we are to go out and play football. We have progressed a lot. Early in the season we were pass heavy and we've tried to balance it out a little bit and you see our run game come along.
“Joshia has been doing it for us all year and now to see Gavin come in a do his thing. We knew he was special and we've been looking for ways to get him the ball.”
Sawchuk had TD runs of two, 28, one, three and two yards and finished with 113 yards on 24 carries. He caught one pass for nine yards and returned two kickoffs for 63 yards.
“We gave them too many chances,” said ThunderRidge coach Doug Nisenson. “Hats off to that Sawchuk kid. He's a really good football player who had a great night. We talked a lot how we are going to have to play our best football and we are going to need to limit turnovers and it just wasn't our night.
“I thought we moved the ball well early in the game and that was kind of our game plan to take what they were giving us.. We did a good job of that early. We moved the ball the ball, threw a pick, moved the ball and fumbled.”
There was no scoring in the third quarter but Valor scored twice with the help on drives of 22 and 33 yards in a penalty-filled fourth quarter.
McCaffrey passed for 82 yards and ran for 31 yards. Safety Jack Howell and Ethan Zemla led the Eagles' defense with 11 and 10 total tackles.
ThunderRidge's senior quarterback Ryan Gilmore was the sparkplug for the Grizzlies' offense as he led the team with 112 passing yards and 29 yards rushing, but four sacks by Valor in the second half lowered his rushing total. Linebackers Ethan Frasier and Cy Paul each had eight total tackles on defense.
Valor's season-long problems with penalties continued as the Eagles were called for 15 infractions for 129 yards. Many of ThunderRidge's 11 penalties for 122 yards came in the fourth quarter.
In the past two playoff games, Valor has been penalized 31 times for 274 yards. For the season, the Eagles have been called for 132 penalties for 1,224 yards, or an average of 11 infractions and 102 yards a game.
“We just have to cut it down,” said Luke McCaffrey, who is committed to play football at Nebraska. “We've had too many penalties each game. We're a team that can beat ourselves a little bit and we have to avoid doing that.”
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