HIGHLANDS RANCH – Three touchdowns in four minutes. That's the kind of lightning that can strike when Valor Christian takes the field.
And a lightning strike was fitting given the weather condition at the start of Friday night's game between the Eagles and the East High School (Salt Lake City, Utah) Leopards.
A steady downpour of rain prior to the game couldn't put a damper on the event as top-ranked Valor (3-0) rolled to a 31-14 win.
And the main reason was the three touchdowns scored in four minutes. But that four minute span didn't come early and it took some patience on the part of Valor's offense in order to let it happen.
And while it took the Eagles offense some time to get going, but it was their defense that kept the Leopards (1-2) at bay. Through the entire first half, the Eagles limited East to 52 yards of total offense. That allowed the Eagles to take some time to get into their groove and they finally found the endzone when quarterback Parker Courier found running back Stone Watson on a swing pass that went for 28 yards.
"It was a great play, third and long and we needed to get some momentum going," Courier said. "After the penalty after another long third down we just needed to get our heads back in the game."
The ensuing possession, the Eagles got the ball back after forcing yet another three-and-out for the Leopards. With the offense in sync, they took aim at the endzone again and got there with a 30-yard run by Tanner Tadra, just three minutes of game time after the initial score.
But to that point, the Eagles' best unit in their defense had done little more than simply limit the Leopards' ability to move the ball effectively. Up 14-0 they decided they wanted a piece of the action as they forced a fumble which was scooped up by Nathan Whatmore and returned 26 yards for another Valor touchdown.
Three touchdowns in four minutes.
"As a team we just want to focus on playing our hardest every single down of the game," Whatmore said. "I know that we play as a brotherhood and we don't take any pride in our own actions, we always want to stay humble. A three-score lead means nothing to us."
That quick 21-point strike turned out to be essential for the Eagles. They looked like they had a chance to build on the lead as a long throw by East quarterback Lorenzo Manu was picked off. But the Eagles wouldn't control the ball long as Manu, now in at safety, jumped a route and picked off Courier's throw, returning it for a touchdown to finally get the Leopards on the board.
The Eagles would answer as they drove down on their ensuing possession, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass Courier to Sid Turnbell to make it a 28-7 game in favor of Valor.
To come out in the second half, East tried to build on whatever momentum they had, and were able to do so by pound the ball on the ground. The push the offensive line was getting made all the difference as Christian Folau was able to punch it in to cut the Valor lead to 14.
But that was as close as the Leopards would get. They had a chance to continue to dig out of that hole early in the fourth quarter, but they were stopped on a 4th and 2 attempt, giving the ball back to Valor and all but sewing up the Eagles' third win of the season.
"I thought our defense played really well," coach Rod Sherman said. "We prepared pretty hard for their option game and when they went into the double-wing and we got caught off guard. That was a huge stop by our defense."
The Eagles would add a late 41-yard field from Jared Kendziorski to bring the score to eventual final in 31-14.
The Eagles will play their third and final out-of-state opponent when they host Chandler High School of Chandler, Ariz. next week. Then they'll dive head first into their league schedule, which begins against Overland, a team that recently broke into the CHSAANow.com 5A rankings.
"We're excited that we're playing really good team," Sherman said. "(Facing adversity) is what's going to happen when we play Grandview, (Cherokee) Trail, (Cherry) Creek and all of our conference games so for us it's that we've talked all summer about how we're going to respond to adversity. That's what we're trying to grow into the character of our team."