GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Cherry Creek had the ball with just over two minutes remaining. Trailing 13-10, freshman quarterback Alex Padilla was looking to drive his team down the field and either tie or win the game.
But Christian Ellis had other ideas.
Sitting back in zone coverage, Ellis picked off Padilla and ran into the end zone, giving Valor Christian a 20-10 win over the Bruins and a trip to their seventh-straight state championship game. The Eagles will play for the Class 5A title next Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"It was going a little fast, but I just did my regular drop," Ellis said. "The receiver was behind me and I knew that. I saw (Padilla) throw it and I just jumped up and grabbed it."
In a game that was a little more open offensively than the last, it was a big play on the defensive side that sealed things for the Eagles.
They were able to combat a Cherry Creek team that went for 164 yards on the ground, doing their best to keep highly touted quarterback Dylan McCaffrey off the field.
The Bruins jumped to a 3-0 lead on their first drive of the game, scoring their first points against Valor Christian this season. The Eagles countered with a touchdown pass from McCaffrey to Ben Waters and after the failed extra point, held a 6-3 lead.
Creek found the end zone themselves before halftime as Padilla was a able to drive his team down, then score on a one-yard sneak to put the Bruins in the driver's seat with a 10-6 halftime lead.
"I thought there was some weird emotion, an anxiety that isn't helpful," Valor coach Rod Sherman said of his team's first half performance. "We just wanted to play as hard as we could for 24 minutes (in the second half). That's a really good football team. We've had four battles against them and any of the four games could've gone either way."
McCaffrey and the offense stalled early in the second half, but the defense more than picked up the slack.
As the Bruins came up against a 4th and 1 situation, the offense went back out on the field. The ball was snapped and the Eagles swarmed running back Kory Taylor, who had run for 93 yards in the first half.
It was a peculiar call to go for it. The ball was on the Cherry Creek 39-yard line and the defense had held the Eagles to 105 yards of offense in the first half.
Was Logan hoping to convert the play to put the game firmly in the hands of the Bruins?
"No. No," Logan said. "That's going to be a timeout."
It was right then that the momentum began to shift. The Eagles finally got the ball into the red zone and McCaffrey ended the nine play drive with a one-yard sneak for a touchdown to give Valor Christian a 13-10 lead.
"They didn't really come out with anything different schematically," McCaffrey said. "We knew we had to get that initial push and things would be alright."
On the ensuing drive, Padilla was picked off as the ball went off the hands of Kyree Owens and into the hands of Cole Baker, giving the Eagles the ball back.
Valor once again was forced to punt, and needing one more play, Ellis stepped in front of a Padilla pass, sending the Eagles to Sports Authority Field next week.
"They whipped our tail physically," Sherman said. "I hope we're a better team physically than we we're in week two when we played them. They ran over us. I hope we play a little bit better this week to give the state a good game."