HIGHLANDS RANCH — In front of a raucous homecoming crowd Friday night, Valor Christian was able to fight off Overland 35-10 in a matchup of the top- and seventh-ranked teams in CHSAANow.com’s latest Class 5A football rankings.
The final score, while lopsided, is misleading. The game remained tight until the fourth quarter, when Valor head coach Rod Sherman opened up the playbook and let the Eagles air it out.
“I call the offense and I thought I was a little conservative in the third quarter,” said Sherman after the game. “Just tried to get a couple first downs, and it ended up leaving us with a couple 4th-and-1s, and we struggled in the punting game. But those kind of things that you have to go through are only going to make you stronger.”
Opening up the Centennial League portion of their schedule, Valor struck quickly against Overland’s defense.
On the Eagles second possession of the game, a 35-yard screen pass to junior tight end Carson Cooper set Valor up deep in Overland territory. On the next set of downs, senior fullback Bubba Watkins took the handoff and, 15 yards later, gave the Eagles a lead they never relinquished.
Overland turned the ball over on downs, and then Valor drove down to the 1-yard-line and quarterback Dylan McCaffrey plunged the ball in for a 14-0 win.
McCaffrey would finish 11-of-17 in the air for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown and had a touchdown reception.
From there, the game devolved into a field position battle. On a night when the wind was howling and knocking down punts and passes, neither team was able to put together a sustained drive in the second quarter.
Through it all, the Eagles defensive front four kept explosive Overland quarterback senior Austin Conway scrambling instead of looking downfield.
With the Trailblazers driving late in the second quarter, Valor’s defensive line was able to get pressure on Conway and force a rushed pass that was picked off by senior defensive back Brian Dawkins Jr.
“They definitely came up big. They knew what they needed to do,” said Dawkins Jr. about his team’s defensive pressure. “He (Conway) is a scrambling quarterback. By doing what they did, they let helped the secondary make some plays.”
Down but not out, Overland came out of halftime determined to get off the ropes and give the Eagles their best shot. A quick field goal, helped out by excellent field position when the wind knocked down a Valor punt, made the score 14-3.
On the Trailblazer’s next possession, Conway was finally able to find some running room, scrambling down the right side for a seven-yard touchdown that narrowed the lead to 14-10. After another Valor three-and-out, Conway put some fear into the Eagles when he fielded a punt and ran it 67 yards to the house, only to see the touchdown nullified because of an illegal blow to the head penalty.
“It’s so hard to practice for his level of athleticism,” Sherman said of Conway. “But I thought we were resilient defensively. I thought we bent a little bit, because he’s such a great athlete. Our defense had their back to the wall. We could have easily given up 21 points in the third quarter, so we’re proud of that effort.”
With the fourth quarter underway, and with Overland closing in, Valor’s defensive line came up big once again, forcing a fumble on Overland’s next possession to set up another Eagles touchdown.
Then, with the game still close, Valor took to the air to secure the win. The big recipient was junior wide receiver Ben Waters, who finished the night with two catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter.
Sherman, perhaps making up for his conservative play calling early, even opted for some trickery late in the game. A flea-flicker led to a touchdown pass from senior Eric Lee Jr. to McCaffrey helped balloon Valor’s lead.
Overland was able to put together one more charge deep into Valor territory, but turned the ball over on downs. From there, all the Eagles had to do was take a knee to ice the game.
It was Overland's first loss of the season (4-1), while Valor improves to 1-0 in conference play and 4-1 overall. In the Eagles’ postgame huddle, Sherman, who knows that his team will get everyone’s best shot this season, told his squad to enjoy their homecoming, and their victory.
“First game of the Centennial League, to come out with a win, you can always look back in the rearview mirror and see where you could have played better, things like that,” said Sherman. “But you know what, you’ve got to enjoy the wins when they happen. Overland is a very, very good football team, and we’re just thankful to have a win tonight.”
Valor will stay at home and welcome in Eaglecrest next Friday, while Overland will take on Cherry Creek at home on Thursday.