PUEBLO — “A long time coming” hardly begins to describe the full-circle moment that played out at the CSU-Pueblo ThunderBowl on Saturday afternoon.

Holy Family coach Mike Gabriel, with his father Mike at his side as an assistant coach, led the Tigers to their first Class 3A football state championships since 2005 and 2002, when the elder Mike served as head coach.

They did it alongside their son and grandson, senior running back Dominic Gabriel, who ended his day with 93 yards and a touchdown. The second-seeded Tigers pounded No. 5 Lutheran 33-8.

“I’ve known these kids since they were little,” coach Gabriel said. “Dom played basketball against these kids or with these kids or was on football teams with a lot of them, so I’ve known them for 10 years. They built relationships over that time and just to be able to watch him grow up and then become the young men that they are today and just be absolute warriors today is just amazing.”

From start to finish, save for a brief moment, the Tigers put on a clinic against the Lions. Senior quarterback Rylan Cooney won the Most Outstanding Player award given out by the Colorado chapter of the National Football Foundation after throwing for 274 yards and running for another 83. He scored three touchdowns, two in the air — to senior wide receiver Ashton Erickson and junior wide receiver Monte Samaras — and one on a QB sneak.

Erickson matched Dominic’s effort with 93 yards of his own as the Tigers propelled themselves toward a 13-1 final record in 2023. They’d been putting that effort together since the fall of 2022, when they bowed out of the state playoffs with a first-round loss to George Washington.

“We had a meeting last December saying what it would take to be here, and that’s what we did,” Cooney said. “We did everything we said we would do in the meeting and more. I’m just so happy for my team. We built a chemistry that nobody else is going to match all across the state.”

That chemistry, and the unbreakable, covalent bonds they built, shone through every play on both sides of the ball.

They took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 24-yard pass into the hands of Erickson, then the Lions responded with their own touchdown at the start of the second frame, completing the 2-point conversion to boot.

That was the last advantage Lutheran held. Holy Family didn’t look back after it took a 13-8 lead two and a half minutes later on a short lob to Samaras.

While the offense took on much of the spotlight throughout the season, no doubt a testament to the leadership style of Cooney, Dominic and the entire senior class, the defense found its rhythm the last time Holy Family battled with Lutheran.

That Week 6 contest saw the Tigers blow a big lead late, only to defeat the Lions 35-28 with an even later touchdown. The defense found its spark after that and allowed just 64 points through the eight weeks that followed.

On Saturday, they dotted the exclamation point on their collective effort with a fumble, two interceptions and a huge stop on a 4th-and-1. Now, the younger Mike can stamp his own name into CHSAA’s history books.

It’s been decades in the making.

“We’ve been trying for so long still. It’s surreal. The kids played so hard and fought so hard all year, and just to do it the way they did it today, it’s just awesome,” Coach Gabriel said. “(My dad) told me, ‘Now you can cast your own damn shadow.’”