Pine Creek has built a football powerhouse over the past decade with two staples: a bruising running game and punishing defense. The Eagles have once again used that formula to advance to the 4A state title game.
One of the main reasons Pine Creek picked up a 21-7 road win over Monarch in the semifinals was running back Austin Schultz. The senior ran for 190 yards and a touchdown to send his school to its second championship game in three years.
"I was a little jittery to start off, but we figured out we could beat them up on the inside, so we tried to beat them at their own game," Schultz said of running against Monarch. "My fullback, Lavanson Coffey, and offensive line really put in work. We didn't change much, we just executed really well."
Ninth-year Pine Creek coach Todd Miller said his teams have always hung their hat on being tough and fundamental. The key to the Eagles' successful offense is powerful running backs.
"We ask our running backs to break one tackle to get the extra yards and Austin is very good at doing that," Miller said. "By the end of the game they don't want to tackle him anymore. Austin is a hard-working kid in the weight room and the classroom, and does everything you ask of him."
Schultz played his first two years of high school football in Illinois before moving. He's been playing football since he was in fifth grade, and this is the first winning team he's ever been a part of.
Playing in the state championship game has always been a dream, and it will become a reality Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We would watch 'Friday Night Lights' in Illinois and I would think that was what I wanted my senior year to be like, and now it's happening," Schultz said. "I'm proud of my guys for what they've done this year. We're all business during the day and we're staying focused. It's easy to dream at night about holding that trophy, but we know what we have to do."
This will be No. 3-seeded Pine Creek's second shot at the school's first football state championship. Two years ago, things went sideways in a 66-10 loss to Valor Christian. This time around, No. 1 Montrose stands in the way.
Miller said Pine Creek and Montrose are mirrors of each other and the game will come down to who is more physical and executes better. The game is important for more than just the coaches and players on the field.
"We always incorporate legacy into everything we do, so they go out and play with the mindset that they're playing for the community and not forgetting about the players who went before them," Miller said. "But we have to live in the moment, and the better team will win on Saturday."
Other standout performances
Isaah Duvall, Coronado
The junior running back ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Cougars to a 28-27 win over TCA and a spot in the 3A state championship against Silver Creek.
Sam Smith, Coronado
Smith was a force on both sides of the ball, leading the team with 15 tackles on defense, as well as adding 64 receiving yards and a touchdown on offense.
Peter Troupe, TCA
The junior ran for 63 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Coronado. Troupe averaged 6.91 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns for the Titans this season.