HIGHLANDS RANCH — Prior to the start of the much anticipated showdown between Cherry Creek and Valor Christian, Bruins coach Dave Logan said that the team that came away with four or five big plays would emerge as the winner.
But Valor Christian only needed one.
Ahead 3-0 in the fourth quarter, Eagles quarterback Dylan McCaffrey found his favorite target in Ben Waters for a 97-yard touchdown pass, propelling Valor Christian to a 10-0 win Friday night.
It's the first time the Eagles (6-2 overall, 4-0 5A Centennial League) has beaten Cherry Creek since the teams were matched in the same league last season. Included was a loss to the Bruins in last year's Class 5A championships game.
After their loss to Grandview last week, the Bruins fell to No. 2 in the 5A CHSAANow.com rankings, where the Eagles sat at No. 3.
"It feels great. I'm really proud of our kids," Eagles coach Rod Sherman said. "That team is as good a team as we've played all year. We feel very fortunate to get a win tonight."
For the abundance in spectators and fanfare, there sure was a lack of offense in the first half. The Bruins (6-2, 2-2) were doing their best to control the clock and keep the ball on the ground and out of McCaffrey's hands. But they weren't seeing a lot of success on the scoreboard.
The Eagles seemed to be suffering from the same problem. The normal high-flying offense that is highlighted with McCaffrey was stuck in second gear. It was moving, but it wasn’t getting anywhere fast.
The only break for either team in the first half came when Charlie Scott shanked a punt for Cherry Creek, giving the Eagles a short field to work with. They were able to drive down to the nine-yard line, but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Jarred Kendziorski to take a 3-0 lead.
"We weren't very comfortable (with the lead)," McCaffrey said. "We were happy we had some points up but we wanted some more."
With the game playing to the Bruins' pace, they just needed to find some offense. It appeared they did just that as Joe Caplis his Ammon Johnson for a 46-yard pass that gave Cherry Creek its first sign of life.
But after driving down to the four-yard line, they couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Facing 4th and goal, the Bruins initially sent out the field goal unit, but a Valor offsides penalty changed the thinking. In a decision similar to the two-point conversion call in last year's state title game, Logan sent the offense on the field.
"We didn't get the push on that play that we did on the previous play," Logan said. "Credit Valor. If you're going to beat good teams you have to make plays when they’re there."
But Valor wasn't having it. The Eagles sniffed out the Curtis Appleton run and stopped it in its tracks, getting the ball back and maintaining the lead.
But disaster struck on the next play. Eagles running back, Tanner Tadra appeared to fumble the ball, but the refs ruled him down.
And Tadra himself stayed down. After feeling numbness in his arms and some neck pain, he was stabilized on a stretcher and taken to Littleton Hospital for evaluation.
A similar sight happened in the third quarter as Adryon Vickers stumbled over his own feet and fell to the turf in pain. After a quick evaluation, the trainers once again called for the stretcher, putting a damper on the Eagles' homecoming festivities. Like Tadra, Vickers was taken to Littleton Hospital where he was diagnosed with a fractured tibia.
"They were two playmakers for us and I think it put some additional stress on a couple of guys," Sherman said. "All of a sudden it means that in a game against one of the best teams in the state we have a freshman running back. It's hard emotionally to have to see two kids go through that."
With the air being sucked out of the fans after Vickers was carted off, McCaffrey and Waters were able to bring them back to their feet with the touchdown strike. Suddenly down two scores, the Bruins were backed into a corner.
"We were ready for that play," Waters said. "We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and that was something that we had to do."
The Eagles now have a firm grasp on the race for the Centennial League title and can win it outright with win over Grandview next week.
Now losers of two straight, the Bruins have to set the ship straight as the 5A playoffs loom.
"We need to regroup and be critical of our own performance," Logan said. "You don't point the finger at anyone and you stay together as a team. You pledge to come back and work as hard as you possibly can to get on a positive note heading into the playoffs."