Creek Meets Valor In The State Championship For The Third Time In Four Years

The Bruins have a chance to bring home Creek’s second three-peat in school history

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Madison Seckman

Junior Blake Purchase is ready to lead the Creek defense on Saturday. He wants to leave his own legacy behind after the departure of his older brother Myles Purchase from last year’s team. “This year we’re a lot younger team,” Purchase said. “We really have to come in, see what we do well, and try not to find the success of the past few years. We have to create our own team.”

Raegan Knobbe, Editor-in-Chief

The number two ranked Bruins take on the number one ranked Valor Christian Eagles for the third time in four years at 2:30 pm on Saturday, December 4, at Empower Field at Mile High for the Colorado High School Football State Championship. 

Creek started the playoffs on their home turf against Mountain Vista, shutting them out 34-0. They then took care of Regis, winning 28-7, and finally beat Legend in the semifinals 48-14. Valor beat Fort Collins, Columbine, and Grandview to punch their ticket to the State Championship.

Creek enters the State game with an 11-2 record after losing 17-7 to Chandler – a high school in Arizona – in week three, and 13-10 to Arapahoe in week eight. Valor enters with a perfect 13-0 record, which landed them the number one seed this season. 

Valor and Creek have a long, rivalry-filled history after Valor defeated Creek in the 2018 State Championship 24-14, and Creek defeated Valor last year in the State Championship 21-0. 

“We’re the only two teams in the state that are consistently a powerhouse,” junior running back Arion Boyd said. “We both produce really good players and we’re always each others competition.”

Valor’s star player, five star senior running back and University of Oklahoma commit Gavin Sawchuk reiterated the same point in a press conference on Tuesday at Mile High.

“It’s great for me to be able to play against the top program in the state,” Sawchuk said. “That’s what football is all about is competing against the best, and that’s what we’ll be able to do and I’m really excited for it.”

For two years Creek was the best in the state, winning two consecutive State titles under quarterback Julian Hammond III against Columbine High School and Valor. But after two years of being at the top, facing little adversity, and rolling over every team they played, Cherry Creek is going into this year’s State Championship game as the underdog. 

“I’ve never had adversity in my career,” junior outside linebacker Blake Purchase said. “It shows that we have to step up and all buy into the process of coming to practice every day.”

Creek lost 34 seniors from last year’s team, including high profile recruits such as quarterback Julian Hammond, who now plays basketball for the University of Colorado, cornerback Myles Purchase to Iowa State, wide receiver Chase Penry to the University of Colorado, defensive tackle Arden Walker to Mizzou, cornerback Al Ashford to the University of Wisconsin, and wide receiver Gunnar Helm to Texas, among others.

“This was somewhat of a transitional year,” Head Coach Dave Logan said. “We’ve had some ups and downs but I am really proud of this group for how they have gone about this because it has been, at times, a challenging season. We’ve bounced players from position to position, we’ve changed players from offense to defense, and back and forth.”

Logan says that when you have a difficult season and you do face adversity like Creek has seen this season, it’s especially important that the team goes into the back end of the season strong.

“I think to have at least a chance you have to be playing your best football late in the season,” Logan said. “We’ve been able to string some games together where we played pretty good football.” 

There is no questioning the fact that Creek took a hit after losing a star-studded senior class, but they still managed to come away with the number two ranking heading into the playoffs. The current team is junior heavy, led by quarterback Christian Hammond, running back Carlson Tann, and outside linebackers Blake Purchase and Logan Brantley.

“This year we’re a lot younger team,” Purchase said. “We really have to come in, see what we do well, and try not to find the success of the past few years. We have to create our own team.” 

Purchase and the rest of the defense have achieved their goal of separating themselves from past teams with an impressive collection of yards after forcing multiple turnovers in every game. With 13 interceptions – one per game – for a total of 308 yards, and 17 fumble recoveries for 89 yards, the Creek defense has kept opponents to just over nine points per game. 

“Valor is a really good team overall,” junior linebacker Marté Russell said. “But if we can shut down their run game and force them to pass, we’ll have the upper hand.”

Stopping the run game is especially important this year as Valor runs most of their offensive plays through Sawchuk. He is ranked fifth in the country according to his 247 sports composite ranking, and he leads the state in rushing yards. Sawchuk averages around 148 yards a game, with 28 touchdowns and 259 carries on the season, which is the most in the state.

“Gavin is a great player,” junior outside linebacker Logan Brantley said. “But I think if the whole defense buys in and we do our jobs, we can contain him.”

This week in practice, Sawchuk was one of the defense’s main concerns. They analyzed film to pinpoint weaknesses in his game.

“We’ve been watching Gavin,” Russell said. “We checked his tendencies, what he does and doesn’t do like false stepping, if he can take a hit, if he holds on to the ball. It’s the little small stuff.”

On the other side of the ball, Creek’s quarterback Christian Hammond and Valor’s quarterback Colton Allen are both trying to lead their teams to a win. The two are very similar in terms of statistics. Allen has thrown for 1,990 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while Hammond has thrown for 1,924 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. On offense, the main difference between Creek and Valor is the balance of passing and rushing plays. Creek has a total of  2,140 passing yards and 2,110 rushing yards. Valor has a total of 1,996 passing yards and 3,269 rushing yards. According to Boyd, one of Creek’s huge offensive strengths is their run game.

“We have three different types of backs,” Boyd said. “I feel like we dominate in that area.”

Hammond had yet to throw a passing touchdown in the playoffs until his completion to senior wide receiver Ky Oday in the semifinals against Legend. His confidence increased as the game went on, and he connected with Oday again for a touchdown at the end of the first half on a 75 yard pass. Hammond said he wasn’t specifically favoring running or passing over the other, and he would do what was necessary to beat Valor.

“It’s a pretty good balance typically,” Hammond said. “Whatever is working in games is what we’re going to stick with because we’re just trying to win this game.”

Coming into the season, Hammond had yet to take a snap as a quarterback for Creek, and he entered his first varsity game with a lot of pressure to succeed after the departure of his older brother and previous quarterback Julian Hammond III, but he says he feels ready to go against Valor.

“I feel like I’ve been in high pressure situations before,” Hammond said. “It comes with being the quarterback of the team, it’s a lot of responsibility and I feel good about it.”

This week in practice, something the offense worked on was hard counts, which is a type of snap designed to get the other team’s defense to jump off sides. One of the offense’s goals against Valor is to use strategy to outsmart their highly physical defenders.

“We want to see the linebackers come down to our line to see where those blitzes are coming from,” Hammond said. “The linebackers are good at disguising, they’re fast, they’re physical.”

Valor’s physicality is something that Hammond has in the back of his mind, knowing he needs to execute quickly to escape pressure.

“Their defense will try to not let me get out of the pocket,” Hammond said. “High outside pressure so I can’t get outside, and then they’re probably going to stick to their keys, which for them is to be the more physical team.”

One of Creek’s huge keys is highly recruited four star senior offensive lineman George Fitzpatrick, who received 33, majority Division 1, offers before committing to Ohio State. 

“Shout out to George, he’s been playing really good and blocking my blind side,” Hammond said. “The whole line, they’ve been doing a really good job these whole playoffs.”

One of the reasons winning this game is so important to Creek is that it would not only be another State title, but the second time in Creek history that a football team has three-peated, or won three consecutive State titles. The 1994-1996 Creek team, dubbed the “Creek Mystique” won three straight titles under head coach Mike Woolford, which was the first three-peat in Colorado high school football history. The second three-peat in state history came at the hands of Coach Logan from 2008-2010 while he was the head coach of the Mullen Mustangs. If Logan can win this game, he will be the only head coach in state history to three-peat twice.

“He really knows his stuff,” Boyd said. “He can work around things that aren’t going well.”

When asked about how bad he wanted to bring home the three-peat for Coach Logan, Boyd had only one thing to say. “Bad. Really, really, really bad.”

The team thinks they can bring one home for Logan, and according to Hammond, Logan thinks they can do it too.

“He said he was proud of us after we beat Legend, and that we did a good job on getting where we’re trying to go,” Hammond said. “He said there’s only one team that could beat Valor, and he was talking about us.”

Whether or not Creek can pull it off will be determined by late Saturday afternoon. Creek football is rarely referred to as the underdogs, but they’re embracing the title this year as they double down and try to use being underestimated to their advantage. In their eyes, someone telling them they can’t do it makes the potential taste of victory that much sweeter, and they are itching to defeat Valor again.

“People really didn’t think that we would be here and they’ve doubted us all year because we’ve lost so much,” Hammond said. “No one thinks we can do it and we’re trying to prove everyone wrong.”