As Lutheran senior Michael Lopez settled in for the long bus ride home from Durango, he started looking through his text messages. He figured there’d be plenty awaiting him after the Lions beat Durango 45-28 to advance to the Class 3A football state championship game.

But one particular string of texts definitely stood out to him. They were from his dad, and they weren’t even words, but rather pictures.

“He sent me a whole bunch of pictures of my childhood and me playing football.” Lopez said. “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life.”

The rest of the Lions roster felt the same way.

This is the first state championship game in Lutheran history and their showdown with Roosevelt on Saturday at ThunderBowl Stadium at CSU-Pueblo is a game that both teams feel is a year in the making.

That’s because they both felt they lost too early last year as Fort Morgan and Mead met for the 3A crown.

“I thought we should have played them last year,” Roosevelt quarterback Bronco Hartson said. “We thought there was a nice collision course going on.”

It turned out they each just needed another year of growth and development. The head coaches and select players from both teams got to tour the facility at CSUP, chat with ThunderWolves head coach John Wristen and take questions from representatives from Colorado Preps and

And while the pregame festivities can enhance the experience for both teams, the primary focus is on Saturday with each team hoping to win their final game of the year.

“We have to stop the run,” Lutheran coach Stephen Robbins said. “That’s a normal thing along with turnovers and limit big plays. I think (Roosevelt) Coach (Lane Wasinger) would say the same thing.”

Stopping the Roughriders running attack will be the primary focus for the Lions. Xavier Ramirez has been a workhorse on the ground, rushing for 1,977 yards and 28 touchdowns this year. Every time he touches the ball he picks up enough yards for a first down. When factoring in Ryan Doucette’s 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns, what Robbins said is the truth. For the Lions to win, they have to stop the run.

On the flip side, the Roughriders will have to be a little more balanced in their defensive game plan. The Lions have a 1,400-yard rusher in Ryan Kenny but Ryken Daugaard has been a solid passer this year, throwing for 2,475 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Joe Ciccio has been Daugaard’s favorite receiving target and has totaled 1,199 yards and 15 scores. If anything, the Lions have a diverse offense which will be crucial when trying to hand Roosevelt its first loss of the year.

But that’s a task easier said than done. This has been a mission for Roosevelt since before the 2021-22 school year was over. Wasinger got his players together and talked about goals for the 2022 year and as of now, they’re sitting right where they want to be.

“I had our seniors come over to my house for a barbecue to talk about goals and other things,” Wasinger said. “The one thing I took away from that was not just their hunger for another run at a state championship, but what it was going to take to get over that hump.”

So far so good for both teams. But Saturday will be the ultimate test for each squad and only one of them will get to pass it.