AURORA — Eric Lee Jr. literally grabbed Valor Christian’s ticket to the Class 5A state football championship game out of the thin Colorado air on the final play Saturday at Legacy Stadium.
Lee intercepted Grandview senior quarterback Cody Summers’ pass intended for senior Brandon Brooks in the end zone as time expired in the 5A semifinal game. The future University of Nebraska Cornhusker made a leaping one-handed grab on a fourth-down play to preserve a 14-7 victory for Valor over Grandview.
“I just saw the quarterback scrambling and tried to stay with my guy (Brooks),” Lee said. “I didn’t want to lose him because then it would be an easy touchdown. I saw the ball in the air and just attacked it at the highest point.”
Valor (10-3) heads to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to play in the 5A championship game scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday, Nov. 29. The Eagles face Centennial League foe Cherry Creek in the title game. The Bruins defeated the Eagles 33-17 in the conference battle back in October.
“I like playing a team a second time. It makes it fun. It’s part of the chess match,” Valor coach Rod Sherman said facing Creek again. “We really take a lot of pride in the fact that it’s a Centennial League matchup for the state championship.”
Grandview (12-1) — the Centennial League champions — gave Valor everything it wanted in the semifinal. The Wolves’ final three drives that could very well have ended in a game-tying touchdown were snuffed out by the Eagles’ defense.
Late in the third quarter Grandview went for it on fourth down from Valor’s 28-yard line, but Summers’ pass fell incomplete. The Wolves drove down to the Eagles’ 22-yard line with just more than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, but on another fourth-down play Valor senior Stone Watson intercepted Summers in the end zone.
“We really felt like our defensive secondary has been real strong all year,” Sherman said. “We are really proud of what they did today.”
Grandview’s last-ditch effort started from its own 6-yard line with 6:32 left on the clock. It took the Wolves 19 plays to drive inside Valor’s 10-yard line, but Lee ended Grandview’s hopes to either force overtime or win the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion on the 20th play of the drive.
“He (Lee) has been catching balls like that all season,” Valor sophomore quarterback Dylan McCaffrey said of Lee, a two-way player. “The ball went up, there was a sense of calm and then he snagged it with one hand. We went crazy. It was awesome.”
Grandview actually took an early 7-0 lead after senior Gabe Hill intercepted McCaffrey on the first drive of the game. The Wolves took advantage of the short field starting on Valor’s 34-yard line. Summers hit senior Morgan Smith for a 4-yard touchdown for the Wolves’ lone points.
Valor tied the game at after a big punt return by senior Danny Rambo set up the Eagles at Grandview’s 1-yard line. McCaffrey’s quarterback sneak tied the game at 7-7 with 9:56 left in the second quarter.
The final touchdown of the game came just before halftime. Valor had a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass from McCaffrey to Lee.
“That was a really good drive for us,” Sherman said.
The drive came after it looked like Grandview might have actually taken the lead.
Grandview senior Nathan Nguyen recovered the ball in the end zone after a punt by the Wolves to Valor. However, officials ruled the punt returner never had complete possession of the football before begin hit and the ball rolling into the end zone. It was a ruled a touchback with Valor taking over on it’s own 20-yard line.
Looking ahead to the championship game against Creek, the focus right away moves to stopping Bruin senior Milo Hall. The running back rushed for a trio of touchdowns in the Bruins’ 27-15 semifinal victory over Ralston Valley on Friday night. Hall nearly ran for 200 yards in the victory against Valor earlier in the year.
“One of the things our coaches will definitely emphasize is tackling,” Lee said. “We know Milo Hall is a slippery back and with DJ Luke they have a dynamic duo. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity of playing them again.”
Valor has won five straight football championships across the 3A, 4A and 5A classifications since 2009. The Eagles have never lost a playoff game in the program’s history (26-0).
Grandview, which opened in 1998, has one boys team title in the school’s history. The Wolves won the 5A football title game in overtime against Douglas County in 2007. Grandview’s last trip to the semifinals ended with a loss to eventual state championship Columbine in 2011.