4A football championship preview: No. 2 Palmer Ridge and No. 4 Loveland aim for gold


There may not be two teams with more different styles heading into championship weekend than Loveland and Palmer Ridge.

The contenders for the Class 4A football title each grabbed impressive wins over tough opponents in their semifinal games and remain alive heading into the season's final days of play. But their methods in getting there are vastly different from each other.

Coming off three straight 3A titles, the Bears (6-0) continue to play their brand of football that features a high-flying, pass-heavy offense and combine it with a physical, unrelenting brand of defense.

In just six games, quarterback Luke McAllister threw for over 1,600 yards and 23 touchdowns. He's spoiled when it comes to target options as Kaden Dudley, Anthony Costanzo and Marcellus Reed have all proven to be top-notch talents this season.

(Paul Shepardson / Paul Shepardson Photography)

Cam Jones has been a big defensive presence as he leads the team in sacks with five and has even pulled down an interception. The team overall has forced 14 turnovers on the year which played a big factor in playoff wins over Pine Creek and Fountain-Fort Carson.

McAllister is trying to end his career the same way his predecessor Ty Evans did, but winning two state titles in a row and he knows that he has a group talented enough to get it done.

"I know my team has my back," he said earlier this year. "I love this team and love the way they handle things."

On the other side of the field, Loveland (8-0) may have the exact formula needed to slow down Palmer Ridge's offense.

Loveland rushes for 340 yards per game and has a tendency to put together long sustained drives that end with points being scored. Zach Rakowsky leads the way, averaging 153 yards per game and he's found the end zone 16 times.

It's an old-school style of play that Loveland backs up with with a suffocating defense that has totaled nine sacks on the year and forced 20 turnovers in just eight games.

Loveland has been playing with postseason intensity since the final game of the year, a 27-26 overtime win against Skyline. The team rode its defense to a big win over Broomfield (the 2019 4A runner-up) in the quarterfinals before slowing down No. 1 Dakota Ridge - who had just put up 76 points a week earlier - to reach the state championship game.

"To get that kind of experience, you get more from the last five minutes of those games," Loveland coach Jeff Mauck said after the Skyline win. "So much of who you are as a person is tested in those moments."

He's hoping those moments have tested his boys enough to be ready for a state championship game. The last time Loveland played for a state title was 2018 and the result was every bit as good as they had hoped for. They took down Skyline 62-14 to claim the programs seventh state crown.

The 4A football championship game will kick at 6 p.m. on Friday and will follow the 2A title game between Lamar and Eaton.