And so Class 5A football 2019 has come down to this – Cherry Creek versus Columbine, definitely a premier matchup and in every regard.
Ninety-nine years of sanctioning in Colorado schoolboy football and we have a big-school finale of the Greenwood Village Bruins, the state’s largest school that is given credit for being the first suburban power and owns the most championships, against the Jefferson County Rebels, winner of 25 percent of the big-school titles the past two decades and whose offense looks like it belongs in 1A, but, hey, try and stop it.
They’ll go at it on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Empower Field at Mile High. Below are facts, historical points, statistics, trends, names and observations that may aid your viewing pleasure on the way to wrapping up another season.
— Say what you will, but a good-high-school head coach still can make all of the difference in a program. Consider Cherry Creek’s Dave Logan and Columbine’s Andy Lowry — between them, there are 12 state titles, nearly 600 victories and more than 50 years of experience. Argument is futile.
— The inexperienced Logan, a former NFL wide receiver, two-sport All-American at the University of Colorado and perhaps the state’s top schoolboy athlete in history while at Wheat Ridge, was hardly welcomed with open arms when he began at Arvada West in the eyes of what was a very stuffy, unbelieving, old-style group of Jeffco coaches, and Lowry was more of a relatively unknown who quietly started at his alma mater, Lakewood. Logan has won seven titles at four schools; Lowry’s teams have won five times since 1999. In looking back, what a difference a quarter-century-or-so makes, eh?
— Recall the 1999 season, also the year of the Massacre, on April 20. But in the fall, Columbine rallied from a 14-0 deficit to down the host Bruins 21-14. It was worldwide news, of course, because it was a bright spot following the worst school shooting in U.S. history. It also was the largest crowd at Stutler Bowl – by far — I have witnessed.
— Don’t forget, certainly, but also remember this – none of the current players were born when any of the carnage occurred.
— At 13-0, Cherry Creek is bidding for its first undefeated season since 1996, when the Bruins and the great Darnell McDonald won their third title in a row and finished 14-0. Columbine is 11-2 and both losses were by a point in Weeks 8 and 9 to Jeffco and West Metro League rivals Ralston Valley and Pomona, respectively.
— Over the previous 15 seasons, Columbine is 1-3 against the Bruins. All games were in the playoffs in November.
— In last week’s cold and snow, Cherry Creek got past Pomona 14-7 in the semifinals and Columbine outlasted Ralston Valley 29-15. Both games were rematches from earlier in the season.
— Offensively, Cherry Creek actually rode more of its passing game to victories as junior quarterback Julian Hammond III, grandson of former ABA Rockets player Julian Hammond and son of Julian Hammond Jr., a former star basketballer at the now-defunct Aurora Christian, has blossomed in his first season as a starter. He has completed 63 percent of his attempts for 2,268 yards, 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Chase Penry, Gunnar Helm, Jayle Stacks and Dante Orlando have the majority of their team’s scoring grabs. However, the Bruins running game has gradually increased to nearly level their offensive totals (2,521 yards passing to 2,308 rushing). Stacks (1,010 yards, 14 TDs) and James Walker (818 yards, six TDs) have picked it up considerably.
— As for Columbine, everyone knows the Rebels are going to run the ball …. and the trick has always been to stop it. Fact is, not many have. In 26 seasons, Lowry has had one losing season. Usually, the Rebels have a premier rusher who makes plays and others dutifully follow. This season , it’s senior Tanner Hollens, who has the numbers to justify the reference — 1,667 yards rushing and 28 TDs, 343 yards and five TDs the past two playoff games. Hollens also has thrown for a TD and caught passes for three others. Senior Adam Harrington also has been solid with 929 yards and 14 TDs. Senior QB Jaden Holliday has had 12 of his 48 completions (that average 18.0 yards) go for TDs.
— Columbine has scored the most points in 5A (514). Cherry Creek is third (473).
— On defense, Cherry Creek has permitted only five teams to reach double figures in points — only four in-state teams — and just three over the past nine rounds. And despite playing for 13 weeks, the Bruins have allowed only 127 points, the second-lowest total in 5A. Statistically, John Adams, Dade Bissell, Delonte Dickey, Gus Zilinskas, Enoch Woolfolk and Arden Walker are tops in tackles, but the Bruins run to the ball very well in groups and gifted junior Myles Purchase can score from anywhere on defense and special teams. For the Rebels, despite giving up 34 points in a loss to Pomona and 30 in a victory over Valor Christian in the quarterfinals, Columbine stands eighth in 5A points allowed (183). Sophomore Seth Cromwell, Justin Lohrenz, Braeden Hogan and La’akea Like head the tackle parade.
— Scholarships? These guys have made some exceptional pledges. Cherry Creek’s Carson Lee (offensive line) and Stacks will be headed to Colorado. Columbine’s Andrew Gentry (tackle) will be off to BYU and Lohrenz (defensive end/linebacker) has committed to Washington State.
— And, finally, you probably know that in-state football offers different leagues than most every other sport. Historically, the big-school football title has been owned by the Centennial and Jeffco leagues. For the record, Cherry Creek hails from the Centennial and Columbine from Jeffco. Since 1990, the last year of significant classification expansion, the two groups have accounted for 43 of the 60 finalists and 22 champions (14 by the Centennial).
Only Valor Christian, which won 5A five times from 2012-18, has been able to crack the duo’s stronghold.
The status quo remains for another season.