Grandview sophomore quarterback Liam Szarka, left, runs through the heart of the Valor Christian defense on his way to the Wolves’ lone touchdown in a 37-6 loss to the Eagles in a Class 5A state football semifinal played on Nov. 27, 2021, at Valor Christian High School. Grandview finished 10-3 in the first season with Tom Doherty as head coach. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

HIGHLANDS RANCH | When Grandview won the coin toss just before Saturday’s Class 5A state football semifinal against Valor Christian, the Wolves hoped a tone-setting defensive series would get them started right in their upset bid.

Instead, giving the top-seeded Eagles the first possession put fourth-seeded Grandview behind from the start in a 37-6 loss at Valor Christian High School.

Valor Christian marched 80 yards with the opening possession for the first of four touchdown drives on five possessions in a big first half keyed by star running back Gavin Sawchuk and went on to earn a spot in the Dec. 4 state championship game against Cherry Creek at Empower Field at Mile High. The second-seeded Bruins topped No. 3 Legend 48-14 at Stutler Bowl in the other semifinal.

Grandview — which got on the scoreboard with a touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Liam Szarka — finished 10-3 in the first season under Tom Doherty as head coach. Two of the Wolves’ losses came to the two teams still alive for the state championship, while they avenged the other from the regular season with their quarterfinal win over fifth-seeded Ralston Valley.

It was the eighth trip to the semifinals for the Grandview program all-time and the record dropped to 1-7 in those penultimate contests, which includes a victory in 2007 when it won its only state championship.

Three of Grandview’s semifinal losses were dealt by Valor Christian, including this season’s, which came as the unbeaten Eagles used their uncommon and highly-effective up-tempo offense to build a 14-point cushion after one quarter.

Szarka — who threw for 145 yards and rushed for 80 more — gave the Wolves a spark when he broke through the heart of Valor Christian’s defense and made it to the end zone to cut the deficit to 14-6 early in the second quarter after the extra point try was blocked.

Grandview’s 80-yard scoring drive was aided by an illegal substitution on the Eagles on fourth down near midfield and the Wolves made them pay with their touchdown.

It took the Eagles just under two minutes to respond, however, as a big kick return set up a short field and Sawchuk (a University of Oklahoma recruit who gained 180 yards in the game) scored the second of his three touchdowns in the opening half.

Valor Christian came up with another touchdown in the late stages of the second quarter for a 28-6 advantage at the break.

The Eagles — who intercepted Szarka on the opening play of the second half — added nine points in the third quarter to build a comfortable lead and finish with eight more points than Grandview had allowed to any of its previous 12 opponents.

Senior running back Moosah Alsaffar finished with 47 yards rushing and another 25 receiving and senior Tristan Burrus had 62 receiving yards on four catches as highlights for the Wolves’ offense, while junior Gibson Leafgreen picked off a pass in the red zone.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

(1) VALOR CHRISTIAN 37, (4) GRANDVIEW 6

Score by quarters:

Grandview          0    6  0  0 —  6

Valor Christian  14  14  9  0 — 37

SCORING

First quarter

Valor Christian — Jordan Norwood 2 yard run (Jeremy Claycamp kick), 9:30

Valor Christian — Gavin Sawchuk 8 yard run (Claycamp kick), 2:52

Second quarter

Grandview — Liam Szarka 29 yard run (kick blocked), 10:46

Valor Christian — Sawchuk 10 yard run (Claycamp kick), 8:50

Valor Christian — Sawchuk 2 yard run (Claycamp kick), 2:12

Third quarter

Valor Christian — Claycamp 24 yard field goal, 7:58

Valor Christian — Norwood 3 yard run (kick failed), 2:25

RUSHING

Grandview: Liam Szarka 15-80, Moosah Alsaffar 12-47

Valor Christian: Gavin Sawchuk 23-180, Gabe Sawchuk 17-74, Jordan Norwood 6-56, Colton Allen 9-35, Roman Bradley 2-14

PASSING

Grandview: Szarka 14-30, 145 yards, 1 interception

Valor Christian: Allen 5-9, 80 yards, 1 interception

RECEIVING

Grandview: Tristan Burrus 4-62, Simon Kibbee 3-32, Alsaffar 1-25, Evan Johnson 2-8, Charlie Dick 2-6, Matteo Munoz 1-7, Davion Henderson 1-5

Valor Christian: Grant Simmons 1-37, Jake Krekeler 1-24, Colby Reynolds 2-15, Bradley 1-3