November 28, 2013 Updated: November 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm
In the spring of 2010, Bobby Lizarraga's baseball team at Coronado was off to a 9-0 start, and the longtime coach seemed to finally have found his groove on the diamond.
Then, he got a call that would change his life. He was asked about coaching the football team.
But switching sports would be a risk, but a gamble the native Californian and former Air Force veteran was willing to take.
"I knew I'd have to start from the beginning," Lizarraga said. "The baseball team was doing rather well, but I had been assisting a couple of other coaches in football because of my love of the game. I was asked if I wanted to make the jump over to football."
He did, and indeed found himself in lean times. He inherited an 0-10 team when Cougars coach Bruce Grose took the athletic director position at Vista Ridge. Furthermore, administration feared for the sport's survival with dwindling numbers and lack of a junior varsity team to boot.
Lizarraga built stability, a solid staff of assistants and interest in Coronado football again. On Saturday, the Cougars (12-1), having their most successful season, meet Silver Creek (10-2) at Everly-Montgomery Field in Longmont for the 3A state championship.
Lizarraga isn't ready to see it end, yet. Just getting to this point accomplished a season-long goal.
"I've been chirping at them all season that I wanted us to practice until Thanksgiving," Lizarraga said. "As soon as we came out of the TCA game (a 28-27 Coronado victory Nov.?23), they all looked at me, telling me that we'd be practicing on Thanksgiving. I couldn't get the smile off my face. We're just honored to be one of the two in 3A still playing."
It's a leap from the two previous years before Lizarraga was offered the top job, when the running clock - meaning the opposition led Coronado by at least 40 points - became part of just about every game.
Still, Cougars athletic director Dave Howard couldn't have expected this success, especially for a program that hadn't had a winning season since 1997.
"I never would have bet my paycheck on that we'd be in the state finals," said Howard, who's spent the past 19 years at Coronado, 13 as athletic director. "I figured we had a good shot of making the playoffs, then maybe winning one game. We've won three games, you take it for what it is and enjoy every second of it."
4A: PINE CREEK (11-2) vs. MONTROSE (12-1)
11 a.m. Saturday, Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Last week: Pine Creek shut down Monarch, 21-7. Montrose outlasted Pueblo South, 39-38 in double overtime.
What to know: Both the Eagles and Indians arrive at the state title game without suffering a loss to a 4A opponent; Pine Creek lost to Lakewood and Columbine of 5A, while Montrose fell at Grand Junction, an 8-win team in 5A. The teams are a combined 0-3 in 4A championship games. Pine Creek lost to Valor Christian two years ago and Montrose was denied in 1990-91. Pine Creek's defense hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in more than eight quarters, bottling up Windsor (34 points per game) and Monarch (48 points per game) in successive weeks. Montrose boasts an offense scoring nearly 38 points per game. Junior RB Mike Rocha leads the charge with 1,492 yards and 26 TDs.
3A: CORONADO (12-1) at SILVER CREEK (10-2)
1 p.m. Saturday, Everly-Montgomery Field, Longmont
Last week: Coronado held off TCA 28-27. Silver Creek rallied past Delta 28-17.
What to know: 3A did away with neutral-site venues for the state championship game, so Silver Creek gets a home game since it had hosted fewer previous playoff games than Coronado. The Raptors, seeded ninth in the 16-team bracket, traveled to Evergreen in the first round and hosted Pueblo East in the quarterfinals before making the trek to Delta last week. Sixth-ranked Coronado, meanwhile, hosted Rifle and TCA, sandwiched around a road tilt at Roosevelt - winning all three by a combined six points. The Cougars, playing in their first state-title game since 1982, go up against a Silver Creek team that won the 3A title last year after losing the 2011 championship game. The Raptors are 11-2 in playoff games since 2010. Silver Creek QB Ben Sjobakken leads a pass-heavy offense with 2,620 yards and 30 TDs.