DENVER — Longmont's Luke Johnson was a freshman when the Trojans fell to Air Academy in the Class 4A boys basketball championship game. This year, he and the Trojans bought in to what they felt they were capable of.
They were all in, according to coach Jeff Kolster.
It paid off. The Trojans beat top-seeded Lewis-Palmer 62-59 to claim their first boys basketball championship since 1942.
"I'm so proud of the young men," Kloster said. "They were on a journey all the way through. We had guys that came to practice every day, worked their tail ends off and believed in each other. They lived in the moment. And today, they reaped it by coming home with a state championship."
Johnson set the tone early for Trojans scoring 13 of his team-high 23 points in the first half. Much like the semifinal win against Pueblo South, he and the Trojans shot their way through any troubles the Denver Coliseum might throw at them.
"We talked about it," Johnson said. "We knew inside that we're all great shooters. We put up a lot of shots in practice. We were confident that we were the best shooting team in the state."
They shot 60 percent in the first quarter, even hitting five of their seven 3-point attempts. More importantly, they took care of the ball. They turned the ball over just once in the first half.
It took nearly two full quarters before the Rangers found anything from long range, but Matthew Ragsdale finally knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the Longmont lead to 27-20 at halftime.
Any hopes the Rangers had of seizing momentum to start the second half went away with the 14-5 that the Trojans went on in the opening minutes.
"The last few games we've gone done 6-0, 7-0 so we wanted to emphasize getting a fast start," Johnson said. "We were able to do that."
Jaydon Elkins hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 34-23, then Johnson and Elkins converted on back-to-back baskets, giving the Trojans complete control.
With just eight minutes remaining in the game, the Rangers finally got their push and it was Joel Scott who powered the Rangers' comeback attempt.
He brought the Rangers to within two after making a basket and drawing an extra shot from a foul. Scott would finish with a game-high 25 points.
"We had a hard time matching up with them inside," Kloster said. "We had to keep battling and fortunately weathered the storm."
Johnson pushed the lead back to four after sinking a few free throws of his own.
But Scott wasn't giving up and once again attacked the inside to tie the game at 59-59.
With the game on the line, the Rangers knew to blanket Johnson on any last shot attempt, but it was Oakley Dehning, the starting quarterback of the football team who found the open look and buried the triple to put the Trojans ahead for good.
"I'm a role player on this team and my role just happened to be to hit a shot right there," Dehning said. "It just happened to go in. I'm so happy for this team and everything we've done this year."
Ragsdale had one last chance to tie the game, but his shot went just long. It is the second year in a row that the Rangers have walked away as the state runner-up.
Their state championship drought extends to five years. But that's nothing compared to the 76 that spanned Longmont's title reigns.
After coming so close in recent years, Kloster was visibly thrilled with what this remarkable group of kids was able to accomplish.
"I love this group as much as any group I ever have," Kloster said. "They were all in for our team. For our Longmont High School. That means the world to me."