DENVER -- When Pine Creek football coach Todd Miller looks at game film of his opponent -- Montrose -- for the upcoming Class 4A football championship game he sees a mirror image of his own team.
“I look on film and Montrose is the same as us,” said Miller during Tuesday’s press conference for the 4A title game, scheduled to kickoff at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Top-seeded Montrose (12-1) and No. 3 Pine Creek (11-2) have used physical play on both sides of the ball to reach the championship game. The three losses both teams have combined for this season all came to 5A squads -- Grand Junction, Columbine and Lakewood -- which all made the 32-team 5A postseason field.
Montrose will attempt to win its first football title since 1950, while the Pine Creek Eagles will attempt to win the school’s first football championship trophy.
“In order to be the champion you have to beat the best teams,” Montrose coach Todd Casebier said Tuesday after flying in from the Western Slope for the press conference. “I think it’s a perfect situation where we have to beat the best.”
The detail that Montrose and Pine Creek scored victories against last year’s 4A state champion, Monarch, during the season is glaring evidence that the two best 4A teams in the state will square off for the state title Saturday. The Montrose Indians knocked off Monarch in late September. The Pine Creek Eagles pulled off the same feat in the semifinals last week. Both victories were on Monarch’s home field.
“The fact that we beat Monarch, and Pine Creek beat them, I do believe the best two teams are playing,” Casebier said. “Now it’s about who plays the best on Saturday.”
One of the most important battles Saturday will pit Montrose’s vaunted ground game versus Pine Creek’s stingy defense. Indians’ running backs Mike Rocha (1,492 yards, 26 touchdowns) and Angelo Youngren (995 yards, nine touchdowns), along with Montrose’s offensive line, will attempt to find a weakness in the Eagles’ defense that held Monarch to 133 yards and no offensive touchdowns last week.
“The offensive line has been the mainstay of our offense,” Casebier said. “It starts up front for us.”
Youngren has been sensational during the Indians’ postseason run. The senior missed a handful of games during the season with a broken hand and then broken collarbone, but since returning to the field for the playoffs, Youngren has 490 yards rushing and five touchdowns in three playoff games.
“Anytime (Youngren) touches it, he can go,” Miller said. “He makes people miss in the hole and has great vision.”
Miller gives credit to his defensive coordinator Andy Colgate for Pine Creek’s defensive success. The Eagles have held six of their opponents to single digits.
The Eagles’ starting linebacker core of Matt List, Josh Odom, Kacin Nowlin and JoJo Domann will have the task of slowing down the Indians’ running game.
“We do play on a razor’s edge,” Miller said of his defense. “We aren’t really big, but we play very physical and hard. Since the playoffs I think we’ve kicked it up just a notch.”
Pine Creek does have some recent familiarity playing in the championship game. The Eagles faced Valor Christian in the 2011 4A title game. Pine Creek suffered a 66-10 loss.
“The experience was great, being a young pup out there,” said List, who started as a sophomore in the championship game. “The loss was tough. It was tough on the seniors. What I took from that is I didn’t want my senior class to go through what they went through. We are going for that ring this year. We are putting everything on the line.”
The total population of nearly 19,000 in Montrose County might very well descend on Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday. Despite a five-hour drive covering 300-mile to Denver, Casebier expects a good crowd from the Western Slope.
“It will be one of those deals where the last one out shuts the lights off,” Casebier said. “Hopefully we’ll have a great following. We’ve had a great following all year. Our town does a great job supporting us.”