PUEBLO — Loveland coach Jeff Mauck stood with his players on the balcony of the CSU-Pueblo athletic facility and got a good look at the turf of the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.
He told his players he wanted them to show him something early that make would make everyone in the building believe they belonged there. The players did him one better. They marched down the field in 18 plays over the course of almost nine minutes, capping it off with a Jadyn Tafoya touchdown run.
By the time the night was over, it was obvious that Loveland didn't just belong there, but for a night it was their house.
Loveland dominated offensively and defensively to get a 42-6 win over Palmer Ridge to hoist the Class 4A state football championship trophy for the second time in three years. And it happened without a single pass being thrown.
"Being underdogs two weeks in a row and taking down the No. 1 and No. 2 seed, I wouldn't ask for it any differently," running back Zach Rakowsky said. "The season was rough the whole time with COVID and everything, but I wouldn't trade these dudes or this season for anything."
Loveland (9-0 overall) knew its hands were going to be full with Palmer Ridge's pass-heavy attack so a long drive to start combined with a defensive stop on the Bears' first possession was the ideal way to build confidence.
In all, Loveland picked off Bears quarterback Luke McAllister five times to put a stamp on one of the more impressive defensive performances in recent memory. Mauck was upset just three weeks ago when he heard whispers that Loveland wasn't getting its due on the defensive side.
"They took a lot of that personally," Mauck said. "What'd we give up? Six points tonight. They've done that every week. We shut down the top two teams, basically. Phenomenal."
Touchdown runs from Rakowsky, Joe Killian and Tafoya in the first half sent Loveland into halftime with a 21-0 lead. This wasn't unfamiliar territory for Palmer Ridge who had been down early against Montrose earlier in the year.
But a Tafoya interception early in the first half stifled any momentum the Bears (6-1) were hoping to build in the second half.
"We came up with five picks, a couple of sacks. We gave him a lot of pressure," Tafoya said. "He wasn't used to that."
And they complimented the play defensive by pounding the rock on the ground game. Rakowsky totaled 183 yards and three rushing touchdowns while also picking off McAllister twice.
That resumé was solid enough to win Most Outstanding Player honors.
"I have so much respect for the guys on the other team," Rakowsky said. "Our whole team put it together, our defensive line and linebackers were getting pressure so I could get those interceptions. Our offensive line was just pushing those dudes so I could run through. Our whole team played together, it was insane."
This marks the eighth state football championship for Loveland. The last one came in 2018 at Mile High Stadium with a win over Skyline.
But this one will have an aura all on its own. Palmer Ridge had entered the game as one of the state's most potent passing offenses. McAllister will play collegiately at Colorado State and wasn't completely shut down as he found Marcellus Reed for the Bears' lone score of the game.
But Mack and his players were aware that they entered the game as underdogs. They just never had any intention of playing like one.
"Everybody judges a book by its cover," Mauck said. "They look at us like we're the Little Giants. They think we're smaller, we don't look as fast, we don't have a bunch of Division I commits, but that group rallies together every single week."
And they do so in a way that earns championship hardware.