HIGHLANDS RANCH — It's often said that games are won in the fourth quarter. On a chilly Friday night, the Columbine Rebels opted to dominate the entire second half, just for good measure. They ran the ball efficiently and couldn't be stopped. Defensively, they clamped down. When the last second ticked away, the win over Valor Christian means the Rebels survive to next week and, as a football family, they get to gather and practice on Thanksgiving.
The 37-30 win puts the Rebels into the Class 5A football semifinals where they'll have a chance at redemption against Ralston Valley.
"We know each other pretty well," coach Andy Lowry said. "We'll be ready."
Perhaps even more so after learning how to battle a tough opponent on the road and come away with a win.
The opening drive for Valor looked more like it came from the Columbine section of the store. The first play of the game went right to Gavin Sawchuck who ripped off 13 yards. The Eagles (10-2 overall) stayed mostly on the ground and deployed their split-quarterback system that has proven successful all year.
Jack Howell saw his share of action and when the ball hovered around the goal line on the Eagles' first drive, he was the one punching it in the end zone to make it a 7-0 game.
The Rebels (10-2) weren't just going to let their style of play dictate and stay behind for long. They went right to their well and put Tanner Hollens right in action. He drove Columbine right down the field and found the end zone in an 11-play 70-yard drive. The extra point was blocked, allowing the Eagles to hold a one-point lead.
Each side only saw one more drive the rest of the first half which each one resulting in a touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt for Columbine was no good as Jadon Holliday was stuffed at the goal line. But the setup for the second half was there. Possessions were going to be key and the more dominant running team was likely getting to practice on Thanksgiving day.
"We were calm," Holliday said. "There was no need to be stressed at all. We came together as a team and knew that we had this."
The Rebels marched right down the field on their opening drive with Hollens going for 45 yards on the first carry. He finished it off with a three-yard touchdown run and even though the conversion was no good, Rebels had their first lead of the night. And more importantly, they had momentum.
"We knew we had to go out there and do our assignments, punch them in the mouth and go right down the field," Hollens said.
He finished the night with 31 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns. His backfield mate, Adam Harrington rushed for 108 yards and matched Hollens' three touchdowns.
With momentum suddenly in hand, the Rebels tightened up on defense as well. On second down, they finally contained an outside run by Howell, setting up 3rd and 9. Cole Bott's throw the next play was long and for the first time all night, someone had to punt.
Columbine found the end zone again to take a 25-14 lead. The ensuing possession, a deep pass from Bott was intercepted by Holliday and Valor was more backed into a corner against an in-state opponent than it had been in two years.
Harrington and Hollens each added another touchdown. With just under five minutes remaining in the game, Valor got its first points of the second half on a Bott pass to Zain Zinicola for a 74-yard touchdown, but it was too little too late.
Bott would find Zinicola again for late score, but the Rebels' ticket to the semifinals had been punched, and in a very big way.
"We're going to have a lot of momentum going into Ralston Valley," Hollens said. "Hopefully we'll give it to them."