AURORA — With the season in the balance, Chase Lopez stepped in front of the pass and secured Valor Christian's spot in the Class 5A football state championship game.
Lopez, a junior, picked off Grandview's two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds left that would have tied the game. It helped Valor Christian secure a 31-29 win over the Wolves in the 5A semifinals.
Lopez had given up a touchdown pass moments earlier.
"I just got caught up in the moment," he said after the game. "I'd let up a big score. I had to come back for my team. I knew I couldn't let them down. I just had to make a big play somehow."
Said Valor Christian coach Ed McCaffrey: "He doesn't blink. That's Chase. It doesn't matter what happens. He turns the page, and gets ready to play. And he's a heck of a player."
Valor Christian built a 21-0 lead early in the first quarter, but Grandview wasn't going to go quietly. Grandview rallied to cut the lead to 21-16 at halftime, and, following a late touchdown, 31-29 with 32 seconds to play.
The ensuing two-point conversion was intercepted by Lopez, and Valor Christian recovered the onside kick. It set off a celebration on the Eagles' sideline.
Valor Christian will play Cherry Creek in the title game next Saturday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
"It's awesome," said Valor Christian quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who accounted for three touchdowns. "We're glad to be back. ... There's only two teams playing now, and we're one of those that is lucky enough to have practice on Monday. We can't wait to get back to the grind."
The wind — which was gusting up to 30 mph — played a huge factor on Saturday. All points, save for a field goal, were scored by teams when their offense was headed toward the south end of Legacy Stadium.
"It was really hard to move the ball," Ed McCaffrey said of the wind.
Valor Christian's offense started early, in the form of a one-minute, eight-second opening drive that was capped by a 52-yard touchdown pass from McCaffrey to Marcus Staples.
Valor Christian forced Grandview to go three-and-out, and then McCaffrey hit Zain Zinicola over his left shoulder for a 20-yard touchdown.
After another three-and-out, Gavin Sawchuk burst up the middle for a 39-yard touchdown run. It was 21-0 at that point, and the first quarter ended that way.
"It wasn't big enough," Ed McCaffrey said of the lead. "We knew they were good. We took some chances, because we knew 21 wasn't going to be enough. They had the ability to come back and score."
As the second quarter opened, the teams switched sides of the field, and Grandview held Valor Christian with goal-to-go at the 7-yard-line. The Wolves marched down the field, 93 yards, and scored when Noah Schmidt went 29 yards for a touchdown.
Grandview forced Valor Christian to punt on their next drive, and Trevor Greenlee blocked that punt and recovered it in the end zone. It was 21-13 at that point.
Grandview forced another punt by Valor Christian, and an impressive 54-yard field goal from the Wolves' Ian Oltman made it 21-16 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the two teams traded punts until Valor put together a scoring drive with . Again, it was Luke McCaffrey providing some magic.
Facing 3rd-and-19, McCaffrey was surrounded by the Grandview defense in the backfield, but he escaped and went 45 yards for a touchdown. That made it 28-16 Valor Christian.
But Grandview was far from done.
The Wolves marched down the field for an answering touchdown, this time Jordan Billingsley capped it with a 12-yard score. So it was 28-23 with 8:19 to go.
By this time, the field was covered in snow — but the wind had all but disappeared. And Valor Christian's Chase Lopez returned the ensuing kickoff to Grandview's 25-yard-line. The drive resulted in an important 28-yard field goal by junior Brian Brogan, and a 31-23 lead for the Eagles.
"If we didn't get that," Lopez said of the field goal, "I don't know where we'd be right now."
Said Luke McCaffrey: "He's stepped up in the best situations."
Grandview's offense drove down the field for a final touchdown with 32 seconds to play, from Jacob Burr to Dayne Prim. But the two-point conversion was intercepted, sealing the Valor Christian win.