HIGHLANDS RANCH — In 2020, any player needs to be able to step up at any moment. For No. 2 Valor Christian, Zach Wiley stepped up in a big way.
With Gavin Sawchuk unavailable, Wiley carried the load for Eagles, leading them to a 42-14 win over No. 7 Cherokee Trail to advance to the semifinals of the Class 5A state playoffs.
He paced the Valor (7-0 overall) with 73 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone. His work helped the Eagles build a commanding lead, one they had no interest in relinquishing.
“That’s always our goal,” wide receiver Tyler Larson said. “We want to get up early, keep attacking the ball, keep control of the football, never turn it over and keep pounding them in the mouth.”
It’s what the Eagles did from the very get go. The fast-paced offense scored less than three minutes into the game with Wiley’s first of four rushing touchdowns in the first half.
He added another before Cherokee Trail (4-3) struck big with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Lavigne that got the Cougars on the board.
But as Valor kept feeding Wiley the ball, the end zone kept getting reached. Wiley totaled 20 carries for 73 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone.
“Coach (Donnie Yantis) gave me the opportunity to go out and show him what I have,” Wiley said. “I definitely have to give credit to the big men up front. I couldn’t do anything without them.”
Wiley’s effort on the ground allowed for some crucial plays through the air as well. Two of his touchdown runs were set up with big completions from Sean McNair to Larson, highlighting both Valor’s depth and versatility.
"They were loading the box and playing a little man," Yantis said. "You have to be able to throw the ball and complete those against man coverage. Our quarterback did a great job and our receivers did a great job."
Grant Simmons added a punt return touchdown late in the second quarter and Wiley ran another in from eight yards out to send it to halftime with Valor up 35-7.
The Valor offense got back to work quickly in the second half with as Lavigne was picked off by Andrew Hale. Once the gain, McNair guided his team into scoring position quickly before Jordan Norwood ran in from four yards to put the Eagles up 42-7.
A 14-yard touchdown run from Gabe Sawchuk, the younger brother of Gavin who saw his first varsity minutes, capped a stellar night for the Eagles. They'll turn their attention to the winner of Saturday's showdown between Legend and Fairview, but Yantis believes his team will be prepared regardless of who they're lining up against next week.
"For me, it's a faceless opponent," Yantis said. "It doesn't matter who we play, I'll be honest with you. It's one of those things where I tell our guys that we're going to watch film and prepare. We're not focused on an individual opponent. We're focused on us."