VIDEO: Loveland running back Zach Weinmaster's highlights against Skyline earlier this season.
The storylines for Saturday's Class 4A state championship game could almost write themselves.
The final day of the football – and fall sports – season kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High with Longs Peak League foes Loveland
and Skyline (Longmont)
going head-to-head in a match-up that few may have seen coming.
Second-seeded and undefeated Loveland (13-0) is far from an underdog after outscoring opponents 540-69 this season. The Indians have shut out six opponents and only been truly tested once – a 21-17 victory over 5A Ralston Valley (Arvada) in September – but are a team worth getting behind.
Loveland hasn't won a state title since 2003, and two years ago missed out on the postseason despite a 9-1 record because of an RPI system that placed added emphasis on strength of schedule. Then last season Loveland ran the table and dominated with 11 consecutive victories, only to get upset by Broomfield in overtime in the 4A state quarterfinals. If that's not a study in motivation and redemption, what is?
"That was not really good a couple years ago, and then last year we get in and won the first game, but then lost in the second round. That was pretty disappointing for us," Indians coach Wayne McGinn said. "I think they said, ‘We're not going to let that happen again.' That's why I felt good this year that we would make it to where we are now."
Then there is the Skyline Falcons, the ninth-seeded upstart that just keeps getting better. One year removed from ending an 18-year playoff drought, Skyline (10-3) upset top-seeded Pine Creek (Colorado Springs) by one point two weeks ago and then shut out No. 5 Ponderosa (Parker) 32-0 in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
A team that won a combined six games from 2013-15 suddenly finds itself in position to win its first state title since taking the 3A crown in 1986. It's a similar path that Loveland took to the state title game in 2015, entering the playoffs as the No. 13 seed before pulling off a string off upsets – including one over No. 1 Pine Creek – before falling to Windsor.
Loveland defeated Skyline 42-14 less than a month ago in the regular-season finale, piling up a whopping 466 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
"I just know they are a very good team. We played them before, and it was a hard-fought battle," McGinn said. "They are well-coached and they play hard."
Both offenses are prolific, and feature a strong rushing attack led by a talented senior. Loveland averages nearly 42 points a game, with a ground game that averages 335 yards a contest. Senior
has rushed for just shy of 1,900 yards this fall and scored 28 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Riley Kinney
has thrown for 990 yards and rushed for 835 more with a combined 16 touchdowns.
Weinmaster had a season-high 225 yards in a 42-0 road victory over Montrose in the semifinals despite playing in a snowstorm in the second half.
"The thing with Zach is he has good vision. He sees things," McGinn said. "The thing I've noticed about him is it kind of looks like everyone is in slow motion and so is he, but he just looks like he's a little faster in slow motion.
"What makes him a great running back is his vision, his running and his technique – seeing and knowing how to attack."
Skyline senior Jeremy Hollingsworth
has been the driving force behind Skyline's resurgence. One year after rushing for more than 1,900 yards and scoring 31 touchdowns, the running back has gone for 1,761 yards and 24 scores.
The Falcons have been equally as impressive through the air. Sophomore Chase Silva
has thrown for nearly 2,700 yards and has 29 touchdown passes, with seniors Jack Wathen
and Kyle West
combining to haul in 23 of those scores. West leads the team with 88 catches for 1,285 yards, and Wathen has caught 61 passes for 989 yards.
A defense that has struggled at times allowed only 20 points to Pine Creek in the quarterfinals and then posted its first shutout last week at Ponderosa.
Having played each other earlier in the season, McGinn admitted it will be tough to game plan the second time around, but the coach added that is true for the Falcons as well. There's also the small factor of playing in an NFL stadium in front of a charged-up crowd.
"We try to convince them that it is a championship game in a big stadium, but don't get too caught up in that part," McGinn said. "Just play like we're at (Loveland's) Ray Patterson Field … don't get overwhelmed by the size of the stadium and all the people. Just go out and have fun and play football."
The 4A classification isn't the only one deciding a state champion Saturday, though. Here is a quick look at the title games in 5A and 3A as well:
No. 1 Valor Christian (13-0) vs. No. 3 Cherry Creek (12-1), 2:30 p.m., Broncos Field at Mile High
That number will grow by one Saturday when the two 5A powerhouses square off in the final game of the 2018 season.
The title game is a rematch of the 2014 championship, which Cherry Creek won 25-24. That snapped a streak of five consecutive state titles by the Eagles, who won again in 2015 and 2016 before falling in the quarterfinals last fall.
An undefeated Valor Christian team is coming off its closest game of the season, a 31-29 squeaker over Grandview (Aurora) last Saturday. The Wolves scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Valor turned away a potential game-tying two-point conversion to secure the victory. Senior Luke McCaffrey
had a pair of touchdown passes and rushed for another score.
On the season, McCaffrey has more than 2,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He has three dangerous weapons at wide receiver in Zain Zinicola
, Kaiden Keefe
and Chase Lopez
, who have 19 touchdown catches between them. The Eagles have used a backfield-by-committee, with five players rushing for more than 200 yards.
Cherry Creek has won nine state championships overall, but only one since taking three in a row in the mid-1990s. The Bruins edged Columbine (Littleton) 10-7 in the semifinals on a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Seamus Henderson
, who had 103 yards rushing on the night.
Senior quarterback Alex Padilla
has 23 touchdown passes, and sophomore Chase Penry
has enjoyed a strong fall with 52 catches and seven touchdowns. Henderson and Jayle Stacks
have shouldered the rushing load, and senior Alec Pell
(six sacks) and sophomore Myles Purchase
(six interceptions) have been disrupting factors on the defensive side of the ball.
Last fall was the first time since 2011 that neither team made the title game. In fact, both teams lost in the quarterfinal round.Class 3A
No. 2 Pueblo East (13-2) vs. No. 4 Palmer Ridge (11-2), 1 p.m., Neta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl, CSU-Pueblo
While Palmer Ridge (Monument)
rose to new heights last fall, Pueblo East
was experiencing a bump in the road.
East, the three-time defending state champion, went through some growing pains and experienced its first losing season since 2007. The Eagles made the playoffs, and came ever-so-close to upending eventual state runner-up Erie in the first round, but Pueblo East still endured an early exit.
Meanwhile the Bears capped an undefeated season with the program's first state championship. On Saturday, the two 3A squads cross paths for the second time this season, with each looking to end the fall on top.
Since losing two games in a row midway through the season, Pueblo East has reeled off eight consecutive victories, including a 35-17 victory over Erie in the semifinals last weekend. Senior quarterback Luc Andrada
rushed for 128 yards and two scores and threw for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Andrada has more than 2,800 yards through the air this fall with 23 touchdowns, 18 of which have gone to Kain Medrano
(59 catches, 1,063 yards). Marvin London Jr.
actually leads the Eagles with 66 catches and is three yards shy of 1,000.
A ball-hawking defense that has 15 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries will face a tough test in a Palmer Ridge team led by University of Colorado-commit Ty Evans
. The quarterback has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and has 33 touchdowns this fall, with junior Anthony Roberson II
(50 catches, 887 yards, 11 touchdowns) a favored target.
was the standout in the semifinals, though, rushing for 122 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 victory over top-seeded Palisade. The Bears' defense limited the run-dominant Bulldogs to less than 100 yards on the ground and forced a pair of turnovers.
East handed Palmer Ridge one of its two losses earlier this season, winning a 28-21 non-league tilt back on Sept. 7. Andrada tossed a pair of touchdowns in the victory, and Evans was intercepted five times – three by Medrano and two more by Jaxson Herring
Palmer Ridge has won 10 consecutive games since that loss, scoring at least 35 points in every contest and never allowing more than 14. East will have the home-crowd advantage Saturday, playing at the ThunderBowl on the CSU-Pueblo campus.