Columbine beats Jeffco rival Ralston Valley to reach 5A football title game

LAKEWOOD — Columbine senior quarterback Jadon Holliday's 1-yard plunge into a snow covered end zone Friday night at Jeffco Stadium punched the Rebels' ticket to the Class 5A state championship game.

"We knew we needed to score," Holliday said. "We knew we still had to finish it. It wasn't over yet."

Columbine senior Tanner Hollens scored two touchdowns in snowy conditions in the Class 5A football state semifinal game against Jeffco rival Ralston Valley. No. 6-seeded Columbine moved into next week’s 5A title game with a 29-15 victory over No. 2 and previously undefeated Ralston Valley.

"All day we were hoping it would snow, rain or be windy," Hollens said after the Rebels got revenge after a regular-season loss to Ralston Valley. "They threw the ball on us last time. For the most part we stopped them."

The second touchdown run by Hollens pushed the Rebels’ lead to 22-6 midway through the third quarter. Columbine was able to capitalize, taking over on the Mustangs’ 20-yard line after a Ralston Valley turnover.

Columbine (11-2 record) faces the winner of No. 5 Pomona and No. 1 Cherry Creek. The Panthers and Bruins play in the other 5A state semifinal at 6 p.m. Saturday at Stutler Bowl on the Cherry Creek High School campus.

Columbine senior Tanner Hollens (6) runs in a 19-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Friday night against Ralston Valley at Jeffco Stadium. More photos. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Hollens started the scoring with a 19-yard touchdown run on the Rebels’ first drive of the game. Columbine was able to convert a 2-point conversion with a run by Holliday to put the Rebels up 8-0 with 7:17 left in the first quarter.

Ralston Valley (12-1) was able to get its offense going late in the first quarter with a pair of long passes from senior quarterback Walker Brickle to Chase Wilson and JJ Galbreath. Brickle finished off the drive with a 25-yard screen pass to Wilson for a touchdown, but a missed extra-point kept Columbine with a 8-6 lead.

Columbine responded with a quick 78-yard drive to close out the first half and extend the lead to 14-6 at halftime. Senior Adam Harrington barreled into the end zone with 10 seconds left before half as the snow intensified.

Ralston Valley brought it back within 22-12 on the first play of the fourth quarter. A 23-yard touchdown pass from Brickle to senior Caleb Rillos pulled the Mustangs within 10 points, but a failed 2-point conversion kept it a 2-score lead for the Rebels.

The Mustangs got the ball right back with junior Will Lester recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. However, Columbine defense held Ralston Valley to a field goal. The 19-yard kick by sophomore Steele Fredricks closed the Rebels’ lead to 22-15 with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter.

Ralston Valley junior Devin McNearney (6) tries to turn the corner before Columbine senior Andrew Lauritzen (58) can make a tackle Friday night at Jeffco Stadium. More photos. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Columbine got the ball back and chewed a ton of time off the clock, driving all the way down to Ralston Valley's 1-yard-line.

"We talked about before the drive that we needed an 8-minute drive to give (Ralston Valley) no hope," Hollens said. "We went down and scored. It turned out good."

On fourth-and-goal, the Rebels' Holliday punched it in on a QB sneak to put his team up two scores.

"We have been hungry since last year," Holliday said referring to a semifinal loss to Cherry Creek last year at Jeffco Stadium. "We have been grinding, grinding and grinding. Finally tonight it paid off. Everyone has bought in. We are all brothers."

Columbine senior La'akea Like finished the game in style for the Rebels. He intercepted Brickle on the final play of the game.

"I was pressing (Rillos) because he is an absolute freak," Like said describing the final play. "He got past me but I saw the ball come at me. It was amazing. I can't even describe it. I'm so happy for everybody."

The Rebels were able to end a streak of semifinal disappointment. Columbine had lost in the semifinals — 2018, 2017 and 2015 — in three of the past four seasons.

"Thank God we got through a semifinal," Columbine coach Andy Lowry said. "We've been beat in double-overtime and in the end of the game against Pomona by a point. Heartaches all the way through. I remember those a lot more than our wins, but next week will help soften those blows a bit."

The Rebels are perfect 5-0 in 5A state championship games under Lowry. Columbine's last title came in 2011.

The first go-around between Ralston Valley and Columbine at Jeffco Stadium was an instant classic. The Mustangs rallied in the final minutes to take a 24-23 victory over the Rebels.

Brickle connected with Galbreath for a 60-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter. A successful two-point conversion run by Wilson gave the Mustangs the 1-point victory.

Columbine senior Adam Harrington (29) breaks off a long run during the first quarter Friday at Jeffco Stadium. More photos. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)