DENVER — For defending Class 4A football champion Pine Creek, the path back to Saturday's title game was paved with an undefeated record (13-0) and plenty of blowout victories.
Longmont (10-3), the team Pine Creek will face at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, had a few hiccups along the way.
But both head coaches recognize how special it is to make it this far, and are encouraging their players to soak it all in.
“It’s never old. I think even now, being able to have those experiences in the past, it’s even more enjoyable because you realize what it takes to get here,” said Pine Creek head coach Todd Miller Tuesday. “Four years ago, when we lost this game, I didn’t know if we could ever get back. We’ve been blessed by the hard work of these guys.”
“I get teary-eyed thinking about it,” said Longmont head coach Doug Johnson. “We had our backs pinned up against the corner, and we had to fight our way out. Our players are so loyal. They’re tougher than nails and I’m so proud of them.”
For Longmont (10-3), it’s their first title appearance since 1991, and it comes after an amazing comeback in the regular season. The Trojans started the year 1-3, and had to fight through injuries and plenty of adversity on their way to the playoffs.
“We literally patched things up as we went through the season waiting for guys to get back from injury,” said Johnson. “As we got the pieces in place we got better and better and better.”
Longmont was able to recover from their sluggish start thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Clint Sigg, who’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and run for another four.
“He’s such a loyal kid,” said Johnson of his senior quarterback. “We got him hit so many times throwing the ball early, dropped passes, ran wrong routes, and he never wavered in his belief. People say he’s been playing well as off late. He just had to wait for us kind of catch up with him in some phases.”
Despite the Trojans turnaround, Longmont has a tough task ahead of them against a ball-hawking Eagles defense that has picked off 17 passes and recovered another 11 fumbles. Sigg believes his team — which turned the ball over twice in their 21-14 victory of Broomfield in the semifinals last week — will have play perfect football Saturday to hang with Pine Creek.
“They have great athletes all around. A great secondary, a big physical defensive line,” said Sigg. “We just have to execute really well. We can’t give them any freebies.”
While this is the Trojans first championship appearance is over 20 years, defending champion Pine Creek is appearing in the title game for the third time in four years. The Eagles boast a versatile attack headed by quarterback Tommy Lazzaro, who’s thrown for 1,438 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.
“Tommy gives us that (flexibility). The ability to throw and run it, this year he’s become a much better runner and competitor,” said Miller. “We’ve relied on that.”
The Eagles were able to do so many different things because, Miller says, their players are all capable of playing multiple positions, on both sides of the ball.
“We were able to develop six or seven lineman who can come in and play tight end. That allows to smash-mouth it a little bit,” said Miller. “We’ve been able to develop some younger guys that have come up and played wide receiver for us so we can go four wide.”
Miller highlighted senior running back Josh Odom as an example of his team’s selflessness and ability to adapt. Odom’s rushed for 1955 yards this season, his first as the team’s full-time halfback.
“Josh being versatile, being unselfish and playing defense last year, being a great linebacker for us," Miller said. "We needed him to tote the rock for us this year, and him buying into that. Knowing that guys are going to stuff the box on us to stop him and our O-line has opened stuff up for us on the edge and throwing the ball.”
The last time these two teams faced each other in such a high-stakes matchup was the 2009 quarterfinals, which Longmont won 42-41. Since then, Pine Creek has established themselves as the team to beat in 4A, and Odom is looking forward to extending the Eagles recent string of success.
“I’m not sure it’s a legacy like Valor with their five state championships,” said Odom. “But if we keep going with what we’re doing with a great program and great kids, we can do something great.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 am at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.