Football: Cherokee Trail looks to ‘shock the world’ in 5A state championship game

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Matt Barden has watched many football games from his family’s seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Sitting in Section 133 in the south end of the Denver Broncos home stadium, the Cherokee Trail senior has always wondered what it would be like to play on that field.

Barden and his teammates will get the chance to experience it on Dec. 1, when the Cougars take on Valor Christian in the Class 5A state championship game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

“We have season tickets, so I’m familiar with this place,” Barden said after a press conference at the stadium on Nov. 28.

“I always thought it would be fantastic to be out there,” he added. “I remember going to a game last year and wishing we’d have a chance to play here. Now we do.”

Coach Monte Thelen’s Cherokee Trail team earned its first championship shot in 10 years of existence with a 17-10 semifinal victory over Ralston Valley on Nov. 24.

The Cougars (12-1) are seeking Aurora’s first state football championship since 2007, when Centennial League rival Grandview claimed the 5A state championship. Regis Jesuit advanced to the 2010 5A final, but was stopped by Mullen.

To get it first state football title — which would be the third in school history, joining the 4A championships won in 2007 in baseball and boys track & field — Cherokee Trail must defeat an 11-2 Valor Christian team Thelen refers to as a juggernaut.

Indeed the Eagles are in search of a fourth straight state championship — it has won the past two in 4A and one in 3A in 2009 before moving up to 5A this season — and have shredded their four 5A playoff opponents by a combined total of 194-30.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Thelen said. “Valor Christian is a juggernaut, so we’ll have to see how we match up with them. We’re excited for this opportunity.”

Cherokee Trail’s presence in the game may seem surprising to some since the program lost a number of talented seniors from last season’s team.

Chemistry has improved, however, and the combination of a veteran offensive line featuring Barden and Garrett Zimmerman, the fast development of junior quarterback Aric Johnson and a hard-hitting defense sparked by Evan White has led the Cougars’ rise this season.

“This is big for the school; all year long, people have been doubting us, even since the Grandview game,” senior wide receiver Brandon Barry said. “They don’t understand. Our football players have a lot of pride and drive to do our best.

“We enjoy coming out at the end of the game as an underdog and we like to shock the world. This is a good position to shock everybody.”

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

CLASS 5A STATE FOOTBALL   CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHUP

DEC. 1: No. 3 Cherokee Trail (12-1) vs. No. 4 Valor Christian (11-2) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, 2:30 p.m.

BREAKDOWN: The Cougars and Eagles meet for the first time on the football field, with both seeking to win its first 5A state championship. Valor Christian has three titles in two other classifications (two in 4A, one in 3A), while Cherokee Trail is playing for a state football title for the first time. Points may be scarce, as the Eagles have allowed 30 points in four playoff games and the Cougars 51.

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