Valor Christian’s third state championship in a row could arguably be attributed to its defense.
But only because the offense hardly had a chance to be on the field late in the first half.
In the second quarter alone, the Eagles scored on an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble picked up and run back for the same, both deep in Pine Creek territory.
Valor Christian High School football returned to its third state championship game Dec. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for its third consecutive trophy (3A-2009, 4A-2010, 4A-2011).
Valor came to the home field of the Denver Broncos as the Class 4A state playoffs’ No. 1 seed and beat Pine Creek, the No. 3 seed, 66-10.
Both Eagles teams were undefeated on the season coming into the finals. Valor, however, came with a 23-game win streak, stretching from the previous season, and closed its 2011 campaign with a 24th.
“We accomplished everything we set out to do,” Valor senior wide receiver Stephen Miller said. “We have to credit our coaches. The are the best out there. It’s been a great season.”
All season, Valor’s defense has played solid assignment football, anchored by Stanley Gilbert, Javaughn Johnson and Mike Mann up front, allowing its linebackers to run and make a great deal of plays.
The title game was no different.
“Turnovers were a big part for us,” Valor coach Brent Vieselmeyer said. “We didn’t come out great, but we started pulling away and made them do some things they don’t always do.”
Pine Creek helped Valor with plenty of opportunities for turnovers and creating an avalanche of problems for the No. 3 seed. Late in the second quarter, already down 17-3, Creek ran a punt fake in their own end, which was blocked and converted to points via a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Wes Taber to sophomore Christian McCaffrey.
The next Pine Creek drive, Valor’s senior defensive back Max McCaffrey ran an interception back 24 yards for a TD. The Creek drive after that, Valor’s defense created a fumble ,and it was junior linebacker Cameron Gray to scoop up the ball and break loose for the end zone once again. The results from all of Pine Creek’s collective second-quarter blunders equated to a 38-3 Valor lead at halftime.
“We really wanted to get them out of that option game, get the turnover and score,” Vieselmeyer said.
Otherwise, when Valor’s offense was on the field, the game became the Christian McCaffrey show. Every three snaps, it was No. 5 making the big play for the Eagles in blue. McCaffrey finished with 187 rushing yards and two touchdown visits. His longest run was for 61 yards. McCaffrey also had 126 yards receiving and caught both touchdown passes from Taber, who finished with 222 passing yards and was 77 percent on completions.
However, it was Valor’s non-starters half way through the fourth quarter who stepped in and helped set a new Class 4A state record for most points scored in the championship game. Valor pushed the result to 66-10 after a 1-yard run from Ty Scott and Taylor Yancey’s ninth point after touchdown sail. Yancey also had a 34-yard field goal in the venomous second quarter.
Cody Thibault also rushed 17 yards for a touchdown and finished with 50 yards on the run. Gray rushed one in during the last quarter with a 9-yard run.
On defense, A.J. Isenburg led with 13 tackles. Andrew Pint had eight tackles, including one sack.
Valor knew Pine Creek had plenty of ability, especially in its option and pass strategies, but a solid week of practice proved once again the difference for the Eagles.
“We just had a good week and shut them down,” Miller said. “We’ve been at it six days a week, three and a half hours a day. It really shows that hard work pays off.”
Hard work is all the Valor coaches saw from their players this season. In fact, Vieselmeyer said it almost got to the point where the staff had to push players out of the weight room. They didn’t live anywhere else.
“This generation is awesome,” the coach said. “They’re different in the way they do things, with their technology and stuff, but this is the hardest working bunch we’ve ever seen.”
Next season, Valor Christian football moves up to Class 5A. Not that the Eagles are nervous. Valor defeated 5A powerhouse programs like Grandview, Regis Jesuit and Pomona during its 2011 non-conference schedule.
In the yet-to-be-voted-on CHSAA football committee proposal for reclassification for 2012-14, Valor Christian is placed in the 5A South League with Castle View, Doherty, Fountain-Fort Carson, Heritage, Legend, Palmer and Rock Canyon.