HIGHLANDS RANCH — Valor Christian's football team started out the first half of its state quarterfinal game kind of like it started out the 2016 season: just a little bit shaky.
But Valor showed valor.
And in a do-or-die playoff matchup against a tough Grandview team boasting one of the best running backs in the state, the Eagles were resilient.
Coming off a close 31-28 lead from a back-and-fort first half, the Class 5A defending state champion and No. 3-seeded Eagles had an explosive third quarter and ran up a 66-35 victory against the No. 6-seeded Wolves on Friday night at Valor Stadium in the 2016 state quarterfinals.
"I think we were back on our heels a little bit," Valor coach Rod Sherman said. "We had played pretty well, and had given up one long double cut route and a fumble return for a touchdown. There were some good plays and some bad plays, but we lived through the bad plays and I never thought we’d get 66 points out here on a great Grandview team."
On a 25-degree mid-November night, the game started after Luke McCaffrey fumbled the kickoff return out of bounds. But on the very next play, senior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey found his younger brother for a 70-yard TD pass to get the Eagles on the board and get the momentum going.
Yes, the Michigan-bound QB threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth in his team's playoff win.
But McCaffrey started the game outa little shaky as well, fumbling the football on Valor's second possession of the game, which was recovered by Wolves junior Luke LaFlam 48 yards for a Grandview touchdown, that ultimately led to the first 7-7 tie. He turned the ball over a second time, but no Grandview scores came of it.
Easton Cecil put Valor back in the lead after an eight-yard TD run. But then the Wolves quickly answered back after QB Kyle Smith fired off a 65-yard TD pass to Gunner Gentry for the 14-14 tie.
Brian Brogan was flawless on his extra point kicks and booted a 35-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter.
And then Hayden Blubaugh started doing what he does best.
Blubaugh scored his first of three TDs of the night on a quick three-yard rush to give the Wolves their first lead of the night, 21-17
But then Cecil rushed for his second TD on 14 yards and McCaffrey fired off a 33-yard TD pass to Ryan Thibault, 31-21 Valor.
With 32 seconds left in the first half, Blubaugh jetted 64 yards to cut the Eagles' lead to 31-28 going into halftime.
"There was a little bit going back and forth in the first half," Sherman said. "Towards the middle of the second quarter we had a chance to distance ourselves a little bit and I made some poor clock management decisions at the end, which gave Blubaugh a chance to make that log run."
The third quarter sealed it for the Eagles, putting up 28 points and holding Grandview to zero.
"The first half was a little shaky and it was close, but we knew it was going to be a good game," Dylan McCaffrey said. "We picked it up and got it rolling on offense in the second half."
McCaffrey opened the offensive explosion for the Eagles in the second half with a 35-yard TD pass to Thibault, and also rushed 51 yards for a TD.
Sophomore running back Joshia Davis dashed 29 yards for another Eagles TD and then tacked on another off six yards with just over twenty seconds remaining in the quarter.
Jadin Watson was the last to score for Valor in the fourth.
Bluebaugh scored his final TD of the night with just over three minutes left in regulation. It was already too late for the Wolves to make a 20-point comeback in the waning minutes of the game.
"It was totally a team effort offensively and defensively," Sherman said. "Our D-Line dominated the line of scrimmage and we played about five or six guys who rotated in. We tackled much better in the open field in the second half and took better angles."
He added: "Hayden Blubaugh is arguably the best RB in the state. Sometimes it takes a little time to understand how fast he is. He’s an exceptional RB, and I'm glad we don’t have to play him again because he’s a senior."
Valor's defense racked up 84 tackles and three sacks; the Wolves finished with 51 tackles.
The Eagles take on Cherry Creek in the semifinals next week.
“It’s one of the best rivalries in the state,” McCaffrey said. “It’s going to be a dogfight, like it always is.”
Valor, 9-3, defeated Creek 42-26 earlier in the regular season and also last season in the state playoffs, but lost an epic state championship game in 2014.
“No one does a better job in the state preparing their kids than Coach Dave Logan,” Sherman said. “We have a tall task ahead of us.”