Cherry Creek and Valor Christian set to meet for 5A football championship

Football press conference Mile High

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

It's become something of an annual contest. Sometimes bi-annual. So Saturday's football game between Cherry Creek and Valor Christian isn't anything out of the ordinary — but it is special.

The two programs, who have combined to win 16 titles, will play for the Class 5A championship on Saturday. It will be their eighth matchup, and all have come since the 2014 season. That includes the 2014 5A title game.

"It's a game you dream of playing in," said Cherry Creek quarterback Alex Padilla, a senior. "You kind of expect it at the beginning of the season. ... It's always an exciting game to play in, but especially those guys."

The game, held at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, will kick off at 2:30 p.m.

The two teams have met three times in the postseason, most recently in the 2016 semifinals. They also met in the 2014 championship game, an epic matchup which ended with Cherry Creek winning 25-24. This year's group of seniors were in eighth grade during that last title matchup.

"We didn't get them on our regular season schedule this year, so it's good to finally get to battle with them in the finals," said Luke McCaffrey, the Valor Christian quarterback. "I think that's the right place. They've earned it, and we've earned it."

The two teams were ranked No. 1 (Cherry Creek) and No. 3 (Valor Christian), respectively, in the preseason. They entered the playoffs seeded No. 1 (Valor Christian) and No. 3 (Cherry Creek).

But while the game pits two of the most consistently successful 5A programs in recent history against one another, both coaches had a similar response when it was suggested that this matchup was expected:

"I would say I wish you would've told me," said Logan, now in his seventh season at Cherry Creek, and 26th overall.

Said McCaffrey, Valor's first-year coach: "I wish you would've told me that a long time ago. I didn't know it."

Both coaches pointed to the strength of 5A this season, and the teams they battled to get to this point.

"There are teams that are not here — listen, Columbine is as good a team that we've faced this year. They could easily be here," Cherry Creek coach Dave Logan said. "Grandview could easily be here. Eaglecrest could easily be here. There are two handfuls of teams that are probably two or three plays away from being here."

"I think it's special anytime you have an opportunity to play for a state championship," Valor Christian's Ed McCaffrey said. "There are so many good teams, and so many good coaches in the state. It is hard to get to this point."

Alex Padilla. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Cherry Creek is led by Padilla, who has thrown for 1,789 yards and 23 touchdowns against just one interception this season. A University of Iowa commit, he also has four rushing touchdowns.

The Bruins have a trio of running backs who handle their ground attack: Jayle Stacks (738 yards, 10 touchdowns), Seamus Henderson (699 yards, 7 TDs), and James Walker II (397 yards, 4 TDs). In the semifinals, Henderson handled the bulk of the carries (25), and rushed for 103 yards.

Senior wide receiver and defensive back Marcus Miller, an Air Force commit, has been out with an injured much of the season, but returned to play defense two weeks ago. Against Columbine in the semifinals, he forced a game-sealing fumble late in the fourth quarter. Miller also made a surprise appearance at wide receiver, but only played a handful of snaps.

Logan called Miller his team's "most explosive player," and wasn't sure if he'd play on offense in the championship game.

The Bruins are anchored by a great offensive line, including 6-foot-7 tackle Michael Lynn, who is committed to Nebraska.

Defensively, John Adams leads Cherry Creek with 86 tackles, and Jaden Triplett has a team-high seven tackles for a loss. Alec Pell, who has 73 tackles, including for a loss, and a team-high six sacks, is also very active. And sophomore Myles Purchase has six interceptions this season.

Mac Willis has hit all five of the field goals he's attempted, including a long of 50. He is also 47-of-48 on extra points.

Valor Christian Grandview football

Luke McCaffrey. (Steve Oathout)

Valor Christian, meanwhile, has the senior Luke McCaffrey leading the charge. The youngest of four brothers who have gone through the school, the Nebraska commit has thrown for 2,033 yards and 20 touchdowns against four interceptions this season. He has also rushed for 454 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Eagles entered the year with Joshia Davis, a CU commit, spearheading its ground attack, but Davis has fought through injuries much of the year, and hasn't played since Nov. 9. He is out for the season, according to coach McCaffrey, and won't play Saturday.

In Davis' absence, freshman Gavin Sawchuk has exploded onto the scene. He has a team-high 606 rushing yards, and nine touchdowns. After amassing just three carries through the season's first nine weeks, Sawchuk went for 197 yards in Valor's regular season finale. Then, against ThunderRidge in the quarterfinals, he have five touchdowns.

Valor also has Jack Howell and Zain Zinicola, who both play big roles on offense. Howell has four rushing touchdowns, while Zinicola is the team's leading receiver with 699 yards. Kaiden Keefe (653 yards, six TDs) and Chase Lopez (617 yards, eight TDs) are also major factors in the passing game.

Ethan Zemla anchors Valor's defense at linebacker, with 137 tackles, including 25 for a loss. Cian Quiroga has 20 tackles for a loss, and a team-high nine sacks as a defensive tackle.

It's a Valor Christian defense that has 35 takeaways, among the most in the state.

There's also an interesting storyline in that Dave Logan and Ed McCaffrey used to be radio partners on the Denver Broncos radio broadcast from 2012-17. The two remain good friends.

"Dave's a friend, and was a mentor," McCaffrey said. "We had fun talking football for five years calling the Broncos games, and we watched a lot of high school football on the road. We took some red eyes after high school games to try to get to the Broncos games in time.

"In fact," McCaffrey added, "Dave was one of the big influences that caused me to apply for the job to begin with. We talked a lot about it. He knew it was a passion of mine, he knew it was what I loved to do, he knew I wanted to serve in some capacity as a coach, and an opportunity became available, and I leaned on him a little bit before I made that decision. So the friendship is still very strong, and it's a real honor to be able to coach against him in the state championship."

Said Logan, who will be coaching in his 11th championship game: "We're friends. We've known each other for a long time, and I have the upmost respect for Ed. I think that whenever you take over a program, I don't care how talented the program is, there's a process involved. The players have to get to know you, and they have to get to know the coaches, so the job that they've done there is exceptional. They're talented for sure, but it takes more than talent to win games."

Come Saturday, though, everyone's focus will be on the field, and that gold trophy.

"This is the goal," Luke McCaffrey said. "Just to have the opportunity is incredible, and now we'll go out there and do our best to try and finish it."

"I couldn't dream up a better ending to four years of playing high school football," Padilla said.