Colorado Class 5A
state football championship game features so many storylines, it could be a miniseries.
The question is where to start when discussing the Columbine (Littleton)
matchup before the teams take the field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to decide the big-school title.
Consider these nuggets ahead of the matchup slated for Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High:
• Upstart Lakewood, the 10th seed in the postseason, is in the championship for the first time since 1985. That year, the Tigers achieved legendary status by beating mighty Cherry Creek despite having only 27 players on the roster.
• Two of those 27 players happen to be Mark Robinson, now the head coach at Lakewood, and Tigers assistant Jerry Hufford.
• Sticking with coach-speak, Columbine head man Andy Lowry is a Lakewood alumnus (Class of 1982) who began his coaching career at the school and guided the Tigers program in 1992 and 1993 before taking over the Rebels. He was a Lakewood assistant from 1987 until taking over the head job.
• Columbine brothers Cameron McDondle
and Bernard McDondle
are taking sibling revelry to new heights.
• Their counterpart, Lakewood running back John Greer
, is on his third school in three years and played on the 2009 Mullen title team. He also is the younger brother of Maurice Greer, who was the state player of the year in 2004 as a running back at Mullen.
There are probably a few other connections between the two Jefferson County schools that will be uncovered this week.
"It doesn't matter who you play in the state championship game," Lowry said. "It really doesn't get any better than this game. It's going to be a lot of fun this week."
Columbine (13-0) is the top seed and rightfully enters as the favorite. Lowry was quick to remind his team in the post-game celebration after the semifinal win against Grandview, though, that Lakewood earned its place in the title game and will be a worthy opponent. Those words haven't been uttered often when it comes to the Tigers this season.
Lakewood won the Denver League title, but didn't garner any attention when the 32-team playoffs began. The Tigers were expected to win a game, maybe two, before bowing out in the later rounds. That was before the Tigers eliminated No. 2 Grand Junction and third-seeded Pomona, respectively, the past two weeks.
They now have won 12 in a row, with the only loss coming against East River (Orlando, Fla.)
in their season opener.
"(The lack of respect) gets to you a little bit, but it fuels our fire," Lakewood quarterback Dylan Nelson
said. "We want to come out and we want to show people what we have, that Lakewood football is for real."
Robinson said the discounting of Lakewood "bothers the adults (in the program) more than it does the kids" because of the demeanor of his team. That attitude was apparent after beating Pomona. The player celebration was joyful, but tempered at the same time.
"It's a very calm team," Robinson said. "At the beginning of the year they were kind of hard for me to read, but I just had to realize that it was just their personality. It's just one of those teams that comes out and takes care of business."
Now, Robinson has a different perspective in again facing a heavily favored opponent in the biggest game of the season. He's patrolling the sideline as the coach, not wearing the pads as a player.
"It's a totally different feeling," Robinson said."We've talked to them a little bit about that (1985) team, but not a lot. We really try to make sure that we focus on them, so we don't make it about us."
Nelson acknowledged these Tigers know about that storied Lakewood team.
"We are very much aware," the senior quarterback said. "Coach talks about it, and even back then he said they weren't expected to win it, either. It's something for us to look up to, a goal."
Two players who are held in high regard are the McDondle brothers, Columbine's running back combination. The duo combined for 356 rushing yards against Grandview, providing a tandem that has proved unstoppable so far.
Both McDondles always begin each interview with praise for their offensive line, which is led by senior guard Dylan Baker
. Certainly, the Rebels are efficient up front, but the McDondles handle a lot of the work themselves, too.
The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Cameron, a senior, breaks tackles with alarming regularity en route to 2,148 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns (697 of those yards have come in the playoffs). Bernard, a 5-9, 162-pound sophomore, gets most of his yards around the end as he's galloped to 917 yards and 15 scores on the season.
"We know we are going to have to bring our best game," Cameron McDondle said. "All the previous games lead up to this one, and we are ready for it."
For Lakewood, there is only one Greer, but he offers many dimensions. He's as equally elusive as his counterparts, and he has a gear that not many high school players can reach. In the past two weeks, Greer has rushed for 373 yards and six scores against two of the state's top defenses.
"He's a lot like our two guys," Lowry said. "Obviously, we see those two a lot in practice, and he's just as elusive."
Greer started his career at Mullen, playing for the Mustangs in 2008 and 2009. He transferred to Overland for the 2010 season, but never played a down for the Trailblazers before moving to Lakewood for this year.
"I went there (Overland) just for school to get my grades straight," said Greer, who was a ball boy for the 2004 Mullen championship team. "I came here kind of unknown, but I trust my team; I love them. We have one bond, one team."
Positive feelings and mutual respect are recurring themes with this matchup, and for good reason. While their vantage points might be different, each team ended up at essentially the same place.
Make no mistake, though, each program wants to win, regardless of which team will be standing on the other sideline. Either Columbine will win its fifth state title and first since 2006, or the Tigers will bring home their eighth championship.
"Mark Robinson is a good friend, and I've known a lot of their coaches for 25-30 years," Lowry said. "I'm really excited for those guys and so proud of them. We will both line up on Saturday and just play hard."
But added the Columbine coach, when asked if he would at all be conflicted in leading his Rebels against his alma mater with the title at stake: "I got rid of my orange and black 18 years ago."