DENVER — To become a champion, losses must be embraced and used as learning tools to become a better team in the long run.
The Cherry Creek Bruins and Valor Christian Eagles have both overcome setbacks this season as the two prepare to battle for the Class 5A state football championship Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“To lose our last two regular season games it really gave us the chance to respond to some adversity,” Valor coach Rod Sherman said during Tuesday’s state championship press conference. “That is the great thing about high school athletics, you are going to have some bumps in the road and you get a chance to see how you are going to use those to grow and move forward.”
Cherry Creek and Valor enter the title game with six combined losses and identical 10-3 records. In the previous four 5A title games, the eight finalists combined for six losses going into the championship game.
The Bruins got off to a slow 1-2 start this season dropping non-league games to Pomona and Jordan (Utah). A loss to Grandview midway through its brutal 5A Centennial League schedule was Creek’s last loss before going on its current six-game winning streak.
“It motivates teams to play harder the next game. Those losses are what got us going,” said Cherry Creek senior running back Milo Hall, who has 2,086 yards rushing this season. “We’ve bounced back and are getting ready for this game Saturday.”
It’s the first time Dave Logan, who will be coaching in his ninth 5A state championship game since 1997, has taken a three-loss team to the title game. Logan guided Arvada West (1997) and Chatfield (2001) to championships before taking Mullen to six titles games during his tenure with the Mustangs.
Cherry Creek claimed eight football titles from 1982 to 1996. It will be the Bruins’ first trip back to Mile High since 2008 and initial title game voyage with Logan at the helm.
“Even though we’ve lost three times, it has steeled us for the highest of competition,” Logan said of the season. “We’ve been in tough games and none will be bigger, nor tougher, than what we’ve got on Saturday.”
Valor had a total of three losses over its previous two seasons that ended with the Eagles winning back-to-back 5A titles. Two of those losses came against Utah powerhouse Bingham. This season Valor dropped a game against Chandler (Arizona), which will play for the state title in Arizona’s largest classification Friday.
The Eagles also had their 28-game winning streak against in-state schools snapped by Cherry Creek in a Centennial League game back in October. The Bruins won 33-17, scoring 26 unanswered points in the second half.
“We played really hard. It’s the only way that you have a chance to compete at the highest level against championship quality teams,” said Logan looking back at the first meeting against Valor. “You have to play with every fiber of your body for 48 minutes, otherwise you have no chance. We have great respect for Valor and what they have accomplished.”
Valor’s defeat against Creek was followed up with another conference loss against Grandview the next week.
“For us with the losses we were able to look back and realized there were things we were missing,” Valor senior captain Nathaniel Whatmore said. “We were missing some motivation and we needed to fix the physicality. We came together as a team.”
Valor has put together four straight postseason victories since the back-to-back losses, including knocking off previously undefeated and Centennial League champion Grandview on the Wolves’ home field last Saturday.
“I’m really thankful to our players who embraced the newness of the playoffs and we’ve been able to play a little bit better playoffs,” said Sherman, who also admitted him and his staff weren’t “pushing the right buttons” at times this season.
Valor will attempt to win its sixth straight football title Saturday. The Eagles won the 3A trophy in 2009 before taking back-to-back 4A titles in 2010 and 2011 before moving up to claim the 5A championships the past two seasons. Valor has a never lost a playoff game, going 26-0 since 2009.
“It’s always be the motto of our program to challenge ourselves so weaknesses can get revealed so you can fix them,” Sherman said. “We would never want to be a team that is untested going into the playoffs.”
It's fair to say Valor and Cherry Creek have dealt with their losses and disappointments in a positive manner to make them significantly battled tested going into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff.