3A football finalists Silver Creek, Coronado have varying backgrounds

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots)

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots)

Silver Creek went 8-4 in 2010, then was playing for a 3A championship a year later. Last season, the Raptors won their first title.

Coronado? Well, the Cougars went 2-8 in 2010, 0-10 in 2011, then 5-5 last year.

Not the likeliest of pairs for Saturday's 3A football championship, is it?

Coronado's massive turnaround -- the program is 12-1 this season and playing in a championship game for the first time since 1982 -- has been the story of the 3A playoffs this season.

"A few years ago, we were pretty low on our numbers," Cougars coach Bobby Lizarraga said this week. "As a matter of fact, the year before I took over (2009), we didn't even have a JV program. We went basically freshman to varsity, and the varsity team was somewhere around 30 players."

So Lizarraga's initial mission wasn't anywhere in the realm of championship games, or even the playoffs. It was getting kids to simply join the team.

"I knew there were a lot of athletes in the building -- I worked in the building -- and I believed that we could get the interest of our players that were walking the halls and not being a part of the football program," Lizarraga said. "They were needed in the football program. I knew we could convince them to come out. Over the past three years, we slowly were able to do that, and gained our confidence back."

Coronado now has a junior varsity team. And, four years after Lizarraga took over, a chance at a championship. It would be the school's first.

"It's been amazing," Lizarraga said. "Especially for the students who walk the hallways, to have their fellow student body there for them and wishing them luck in the next game, and wishing them the best here as they take the bus ride to Longmont for a potential state title.

"Before, it was the other side," the coach continued. "It was the other comments: 'Oh, you know the football program's not going to compete against anybody. I'm not going to go out there and be a part of that.' It took a lot of courage for our athletes, especially our current seniors, to endure all that -- and now reap the benefits of their hard work."

Coronado, the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, opened 2013 by winning its first nine games. The Cougars dropped their regular season finale to Discovery Canyon, but rebounded to beat Rifle, Roosevelt and The Classical Academy in the postseason.

Those three victories have come by a combined six points. What's more, Coronado trailed Rifle by 17 points and Roosevelt by 14 during the course of those games. The Cougars then had to stop a two-point conversion in the final seconds to top TCA in the semifinals.

"They've come from behind in their three playoff games and won close ones," Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. "That, in itself, is something you can't teach: that ability to hang in there and play."

Saturday's championship game, which has a 1 p.m. kickoff, is at Everly-Montgomery Field in Longmont.

No. 9 Silver Creek has had a target on its back for much of the season, and got everyone's best shot. It comes with being a defending champion. And it's part of the reason why the Raptors dropped two midseason games, to Frederick on Sept. 27 and to Roosevelt on Oct. 18.

"We just didn't finish the games," Apodaca said of the losses. "We had leads at the half in both of them and just really kind of stopped playing in the second half and those two teams took advantage."

His group has learned from both losses.

"I don't think anyone's ever really happy with a loss -- they weren't very happy afterwards," Apodaca said. "But when you look back, I think it's a group that, now (when trailing) they feel like, 'Boy, this could be the end of it if we don't get going,' I think they do a great job of buckling down."

Silver Creek rebounded from those early losses and has now won five games in a row. The Raptors are on a roll, of sorts. And history is on their side as they've now made three-straight appearances in the 3A championship game.

"That's a great program," Lizarraga said. "We see nothing but a great program."

Also at play on Saturday: Silver Creek returned 16 starters from last season's 3A title team. So this week isn't anything new.

"You can't replace 16 kids that have played in this kind of game and understand what the week looks like and the focus it takes," Apodaca said.