DENVER — It was a familiar sight at Mile High Stadium at the conclusion of the Class 5A football game.
Valor Christian walked off the field with another state championship trophy in hand. The Eagles defeated Pomona 30-14 in a rematch of last year’s 5A championship game.
"This is as good as I can remember," Valor coach Rod Sherman said after yet another season ending with the Eagles on top. "To come back here and win is quite an accomplishment. I'm really, really proud of this team."
Valor claimed its seventh state football title since winning the school’s first championship in 3A in 2009. The Eagles hold a 36-1 postseason record on the road to their four 5A, two 4A and one 3A champion titles over the past eight years.
"There is no better way to go out, especially with the brothers on this team," said Valor senior Dylan McCaffrey, who quarterbacked the Eagles in three straight title games.
McCaffrey finished his final prep football game 8-for-19 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a team-high 72 yards on 16 carries and a score. McCaffrey's 8-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter extended Valor's lead to 30-7 and pretty much put the game out of reach.
On top of everything, McCaffrey had his future college coach — University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — in attendance Saturday.
"(Dylan) plays well in big games," Sherman said. "The way he ran the ball tonight was super tough and super physical. He might some great throws on some plays."
After falling behind early 7-0, Valor put up 23 unanswered points from the tail end of the first quarter until halftime. The Eagles grabbed a 23-7 lead at the break. Valor put up points on fourth straight possessions to close the first half.
"We felt the first time we played them we were a little conservative," Sherman said. "We knew we were going to have to take the top off their coverage and we did that a couple of times."
Pomona had the lead and the ball inside Valor territory looking to grab a two-score lead. However, Valor senior Jack Walley intercepted Pomona junior quarterback Ryan Marquez to give the Eagles the ball on Valor’s 35-yard line.
Two plays later McCaffrey connected with senior Christian Elliss for a 61-yard touchdown, cuttingly the lead to 7-6 after a missed PAT. Elliss came up big moments later picking off Marquez and running the interception back to Pomona’s 5-yard line.
"That moment was amazing," Elliss said of his long touchdown catch.
McCaffrey hooked up with younger brother Luke McCaffrey to give Valor a 13-6 lead with 34 seconds before the end of the first quarter. The two Valor touchdowns came just more than two minutes apart to turn a deficit into a lead.
Freshman Brian Brogan pushed Valor’s lead to 16-7 midway through the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal. Sophomore Joshia Davis gave Valor a commanding 23-7 lead at halftime on a 5-yard touchdown run with 10 second before the half.
Pomona’s offensive failed to get much going in the third quarter. Marquez finished 20-for-30 passing for 180 yards, but threw three interceptions. Junior running back Kenny Maes was the Panthers' leading rusher with 11 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown.
"What I'm most proud of is I thought our guys were tough today. That isn't always a adjective use for a Valor football team," Sherman said. "We take a lot of pride in our toughness and I think we should that on the field today."
The Panthers’ most successful drive in the second half was aided by trio of personal fouls on Valor. Marquez scored on a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to end a stretch of 30 unanswered points by Valor.
"We knew it was going to be tough sledding running the ball and they are athletic on the back end when you throw the ball," Pomona coach Jay Madden said. "Defensively, we had to choose our poison and it was hard all night."
Cherry Creek is the only team to hand Valor a playoff loss during the Eagles’ run on state titles. The Bruins edge Valor 25-24 in the 2014 5A championship at Mile High.
"I'll always be a little sour about that," Dylan McCaffrey said of the loss to Cherry Creek.
Valor went through Cherry Creek, Mullen and Fountain-Fort Carson on the way to yet another state title.
"I think we love it," Elliss said having pressure to win a state title every year. "Everyone is gunning for us. Every team says they want to beat us. It's amazing when we come out and do things like this."
It wasn’t a cakewalk through the season for Valor. The Eagles started the season 1-3 with losses to Saguaro (big-school state champion from Arizona), Mullen and Pomona. The Eagles (11-3 overall) finished with 10-game winning streak.
Pomona concluded a remarkable season and improbable return to the state title game where the Panthers lost three returning all-state players Jake Moretti, Max Borghi and Cameron Gonzales before the title game.
"I'm always going to have a chip on my shoulder to beat (Valor) every time we see them," said Pomona sophomore Billy Pospisil, who led the Panthers with eight catches for 65 yard receiving. "There is a lot of motivation to get back here next year."
Moretti, one of the top offensive linemen in the state, didn’t play at all this season after a knee injury over the summer. Borghi (824 yards rushing, 495 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns) suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Pomona’s quarterfinal victory over Columbine. Gonzales (890 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns) broke his lower leg and dislocated an ankle a week ago in the Panthers’ semifinal win over Regis Jesuit.
Maes was thrust into the role of primary running back and starting safety with the loss of Borghi and Gonzales.
Pomona’s last football state championship came in 1988 when the Panthers edged Montebello 24-21. Pomona now has a 1-6 record in football title games.
It was Pomona’s third appearance and loss in the 5A title game since 2009. The Panthers suffered a pair of heartbreaking 3-point losses to Mullen (2009) and Valor (2015).
"You just feel for the kids. They fought so hard to get here," Madden said. "A lot of teams would love to end their season here at Mile High. We aren't going to sit and complain, but it's tough."