An 0-3 start has never looked so good.
Pine Creek finished its nonleague schedule winless as defending 5A champion Columbine connected on a 41-yard field goal for a 13-10 victory as time expired Saturday.
The heartbreaker for the 4A Eagles followed a one-point loss to last year’s 5A runner-up Lakewood, and that came after a loss to 5A upstart Fountain-Fort Carson that wasn't decided until the final minute.
“I think our team really grew up today, because that was about as brutal a high school football game as you’ll see,” Eagles coach Todd Miller said. “Just two physical teams. I don’t know if we figured anything out, but we know that we’re tough.”
The three losses match the total from the Eagles’ previous 56 regular-season games. They knew this exact scenario was possible -- maybe even probable -- when they front-loaded the schedule with 5A contenders.
“It is what it is. We can’t go back,” Miller said. “We’re 0-3. This loss hurt. We’re going to see where our guys are at, and we’ll start getting ready for our next one. We’ll be there. We’ll line up.”
Columbine jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, finding the end zone on an 83-yard run from Bernard McDondle. The Eagles helped the Rebels' cause by turning the ball over twice on interceptions – running the season’s total to 12 turnovers through the first five halves.
It could have been over there. But it was just getting started.
An 86-yard drive, highlighted by a 47-yard run from James Fisher and capped by a 1-yard touchdown from Kamden Adkins made it 10-7 in the second quarter.
Fisher went on to run for a team-high 110 yards for Pine Creek.
The Eagles tied it on a 34-yard field goal from Ian Fletcher midway through the the third quarter. The score was set up when Pine Creek linebacker Chase Stevens stuffed McDondle on a fourth-and-1 near midfield after Columbine was given a second chance after a running-into-the-kicker penalty.
The momentum clearly belonged to the Eagles, whose fans nearly filled the home side of District 20 Stadium.
That’s where the defenses took over.
“There was nowhere to hide on this field,” Miller said. “You’re going to get hit.”
A missed field goal gave Columbine the ball in the final minutes and McDondle – who ran 22 times for 197 yards – made second efforts on two third-down plays where he seemed to be stuffed.
“I knew I had to force it, push it,” McDondle said. “I had to get my team down there. So that’s what I did.”
Columbine’s kicker quit this week, forcing junior Jeremy Aparicio into his first varsity action. He handled the assignment well when his 41-yard kick into a breeze cleared the crossbar by about three feet.
“I was a little nervous,” Aparicio said. “I was just saying, please go through.”
Next week provides no relief for Pine Creek, as Vista Ridge is playing as well as anyone in 4A. But that one is a league matchup and couldn't have been avoided. These first three were lined up by choice.
Miller is understandably concerned with the psyche of a team that isn’t exactly well-versed in adversity after rolling to a 13-1 record and a 4A runner-up finish last year.
But there was no doubt on either side that Pine Creek used these three weeks to cement its reputation as one of the hardest-hitting teams in the state.
“They are the toughest team we’ve played besides Fountain-Fort Carson,” McDondle said. “They’re real physical, that’s what makes them great.”
McDondle wasn't the only one offering such such praise. Even local rivals like Brad Looney of Rampart instantly took to Twitter, saying "(heck) of a game Pine Creek. Lotta respect."
That all sounds fine and good, but Miller’s task is to convince a winless team that brighter days are ahead.
“I don’t have any words to explain what we’re feeling,” Miller said. “I’m glad we came out healthy. I’m so proud of our kids for playing so hard.”