CHSAA 4A State Football Playoff Game Pine Creek vs Loveland

Pine Creek senior Zion Hill runs for a first down during the first half against Loveland at the District 20 Stadium on Nov. 19.

That would be a nightmare. 

If you told Pine Creek coach Todd Miller that he'd be facing No. 6 Loveland, down 7-0, with his backup quarterback in for the second half, he'd have woken up in a fuss.

Instead, the Eagles faced the hurdle with a strong defense, led by coordinator Mitch Wibbels. They held the Red Wolves out of the end zone the final three quarters and staved off Loveland, 10-7 Friday at District 20 Stadium. 

"I'd probably have woken up with cold sweats," Miller said. "It's not something you plan for. You can't think about who's in and who's not, just who we are. We're a tough team and we live on that." 

No moment was tougher than the final one. 

Up 10-7, with Loveland at the Pine Creek four-yard line, the Eagles were tasked with stopping the state's top rushing team — three years in a row, in fact — four times in the final two minutes. 

The Red Wolves, too, lost their starting quarterback, albeit midway through the fourth quarter. With backup, sophomore Trey Olsen taking over, Loveland had a more limited playbook. 

Wibbels and Miller knew it would be a give up the middle, or a sweep play with motion beforehand. On three occasions, the sweep was called, including the fourth down stop to clinch it. 

Freshman Cameron Cooper, tasked with taking over for Roy and leading the comeback, knew his defense would come through — just like it had all game. 

"This is our season and this was our time to get a win," Cooper said. "Our defense is the best in the state." 

That defense held up earlier, too, to help Cooper. 

On fourth down, from their side of the field, the Red Wolves went for it. Pine Creek came up with a stop to set up the offense with a short field — leading to the eventual game-winning score. 

Loveland limited its offense without starter Garrett Harstad. Pine Creek went the other way, entrusting its first-year quarterback to run the playbook and system how the Eagles always prefer. 

The foundation's been built through years of coaching and developing. When the mess begins, the Eagles know where to find the dustpan and broom. They know how to solve it, even when they'd never planned for it beforehand. 

"The bigger the foundation, the bigger the building," Miller said. "I think that's what we went back to. We went back to who we were and stayed in it — didn't panic. You know going in that you won't have many chances against Loveland."

A familiar foe awaits Pine Creek. No. 7 Chatfield — an opponent the Eagles beat, 28-22 in September — upset No. 2 Dakota Ridge to reach the semifinals. 

The biggest question now: will the senior or freshman lead the offense? Either way, Pine Creek's plan will be to stick to its roots.

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