DENVER — He wasn't present at Sports Authority Field, but Michael Buffer would've fit right in. With all the hype surrounding Saturday's 5A state title game, a rambunctious crowd at the home of the Denver Broncos was certainly ready to rumble.
And the players followed suit.
Two years removed from Valor Christian's 9-0 win over Cherokee Trail for their first 5A title, the Eagles found themselves in another fight. And it was one that Colorado high school football fans desperately wanted.
Dave Logan's Cherry Creek Bruins perfectly played the part of Muhammad Ali in their 25-24 win over Valor Christian, ending the Eagles' run of 26-straight postseason wins. In fact, Saturday was the first time the Eagles had ever lost in the postseason.
"This was a special game when you consider the ebb and flow of it," Logan said. "Valor's a great program. They have great players and they're very well coached so we knew this was going to be a heavyweight fight. We were going to get hit and we were going to get rocked and you have to have the ability to withstand that and gather yourself and go back out there."
The Eagles landed the first jab with a 38-yard field goal early in the second quarter. But after a low-key first quarter, Milo Hall landed two straight hay makers in the form of a 35-yard run followed up immediately by another long burst, this one going 30 yards and for a the lone touchdown of the first half.
On those two runs, the Bruins had stung like a bee.
And just when it looked like Hall was going to land the knockout punch, he swung and missed. He fumbled on the Valor one-yard line, allowing the Eagles to regain possession and prevent the Bruins from taking a two-score lead. That hurt when two series later, Dylan McCaffrey connected with Ben Waters for a 61-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 10-10.
And the battle raged on.
"If I had stayed down I knew my team would've stayed down as well and I couldn't let them see me like that," Hall said. "I had to bounce back quick and help us win."
But that was easier said than done. McCaffrey soon found Danny Rambo on a 15-yard pass to give the Eagles a 17-10 lead, putting the Bruins on the ropes.
But midway through the fourth quarter, it was quarterback Joe Caplis who found his opening, connecting with Joseph Parker on a 53-yard pass. That pass put the Bruins on the six-yard line where Caplis punched it into the end zone two plays for the game-tying score.
But the tie game was short-lived as Rambo landed another crushing blow, returning the ensuing kick-off back 89 yards for a touchdown, once again giving Valor a seven-point lead.
"They went down in an emotional way in the fourth, twice, by seven," Logan said of his team. "To be able to battle back and find a way to win is a tribute and I'm really proud of those kids."
After exchanging haymakers for three-and-a-half quarters, Logan had to dig into his back of tricks and start aiming for strategic punches, rather than knockout blows.
He deployed Hall onto the kickoff team, where he was able to return the ball close to midfield. A reverse to Parker put the Bruins inside the 30. Hall finished off the drive, dragging Eagles cornerback Quinton Holley into the end zone for the touchdown.
But through all the vicious blows endured through the game, it was the two-point conversion run by D.J. Luke — a subtle jab — that did the Eagles in for good.
"I'm sure much will be written now that we're 26-1 in the playoffs," Eagles coach Rod Sherman said. "It's still about the journey. It's about the journey whether the season ends and you're a state champion or the season ends and you're in second place."
Regardless of placement, the journey of both the Cherry Creek Bruins and the Valor Christian Eagles will be remembered as one of the greatest games in state championship history. It will serve as fuel to a rivalry in still in its newborn phase. Creek will recall the battle back from two separate seven-point defects to pull out the win for their ninth state title. Valor will use it as a reminder that greatness is never sustained and they must always continue to fight.
It was a battle that high school football and a state title deserved.
A slugfest for the ages.