Football: Capsule look at Cherokee Trail vs. Valor Christian

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CLASS 5A STATE SEMIFINAL MATCHUP

Valor Christian
VALOR CHRISTIAN
Cherokee Trail
CHEROKEE TRAIL

NO. 2 VALOR CHRISTIAN (11-1) vs. NO. 6 CHEROKEE TRAIL (10-2)

Nov. 23, 1 p.m., Legacy Stadium

BREAKDOWN: Cherokee Trail and Valor Christian meet for only the second time and big things have been at stake on both occasions. The Eagles outlasted the Cougars 9-0 in last season’s Class 5A state championship game for their fourth consecutive state title. …Coach Monte Thelen’s Cherokee Trail program has qualified for the postseason in all 10 varsity seasons and is in the semifinals for the fourth time in the past seven years. The Cougars sit 1-2 in the Final Four with losses to Monarch in 4A in 2007 and Regis Jesuit in 5A in 2010, while beating Ralston Valley in 2012 to make their first state championship game. …Coach Rod Sherman is in his first season as head coach for Valor Christian, which is looking to extend a 20-0 all-time mark in the playoffs. The Eagles won the 3A state championship in 2009, claimed back-to-back 4A crowns in 2010 and 2011 and won the 5A title in 2012 in their first season in the largest classification. …CHEROKEE TRAIL: The Cougars come into the game on a six-game winning streak since their last loss, a 28-27 regular season defeat at the hands of Cherry Creek on Oct. 4. Cherokee Trail got revenge against the Centennial League champion Bruins in the quarterfinals, as its defense generated six turnovers and did a good job on Cherry Creek’s explosive ground game in a 27-14 victory Nov. 15 at Stutler Bowl. Junior DB Izaiah Lottie had two of the Cougars’ five interceptions, returning the last one for a 48-yard clinching touchdown with under two minutes left and the Bruins looking for the potential winning score. Senior S Evan White, senior LB Kaleb Barnum and senior DB Mason Bode also had picks, while senior LB Mar’Keith Bailey recovered a fumble in another strong effort by the Cougars defense. Offensively, junior RB Cameron Smith got Cherokee Trail going with another explosive play, rushing for a 64-yard touchdown in the first quarter and finishing with a game-high 172 yards on the ground in addition to his score. Senior QB Aric Johnson turned the ball over four times in the first meeting against Cherry Creek, but had just one in the rematch — a meaningless interception on the final play of the first half — while he rushed for touchdowns of 18 and 2 yards and finished with 108 total yards (57 rushing, 51 passing). The Cougars’ receiving corps didn’t need to do much, but junior WR Jason Thompson made a big 20-yard catch on 3rd-and-long early in the fourth quarter to set up his team’s last touchdown. …Cherokee Trail’s defense has allowed just 14 points per game in the postseason in wins over Arvada West, Mountain Range and Cherry Creek, with its ability to generate turnovers playing no small part. Senior DE Nic Bogulski, senior DE Jacob Martin and others generated plenty of pressure on the quarterback in the Cherry Creek game, while Bailey and Barnum — the team’s top two tacklers for the season — made plays in the middle of the field, the University of Colorado-bound White was huge in run support and the Cougars’ defensive backs were around the ball all night. White leads the team with 5 interceptions, while Lottie has 4 on the season. …The strong play of the defense has allowed Cherokee Trail to outscore its three playoff foes 108-42 thus far. Smith had a great regular season and has been special in the playoffs with 467 yards rushing and 5 TDs in playoffs, running behind a line led by senior OL Colt Jones that gets better each time out. Smith has 1,550 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season, while Johnson has rushed for 449 yard and 9 scores of his own, including two TDs in each of the past two games and has completed 113 passes for 1,706 yards and 20 touchdowns against 7 interceptions on the season. Thompson (567 yards, 5 TDs) and Lottie (440 yards, 8 TDs) are the main threats in the passing game, but senior WR Isaiah Kaiser, senior WR Dominique Grady, senior WR Cameron Currington and White each have had their moments. Cherokee Trail’s offense generated just 137 yards of total offense against Valor Christian in last season’s title game, as Smith gained just 25 yards on 14 carries and Johnson went 6-13 for 91 yards. …VALOR CHRISTIAN: The Eagles rolled to a 49-13 quarterfinal victory over seventh-seeded Columbine, which won the 5A state title in 2011, putting up 21 points in each of the first two quarters and invoking the running clock mercy rule. Stanford-bound senior RB Christian McCaffrey racked up a staggering 309 yards of total offense on just 17 touches (272 rushing, 37 receiving) and scored four touchdowns, while senior QB A.J. Cecil rushed for two scores and threw a TD pass to McCaffrey. The Valor Christian defense allowed just 124 yards rushing to a Rebels offense predicated on the ground game. …The Eagles have averaged 53.7 points per game in victories over Eaglecrest, Ralston Valley and Columbine, with McCaffrey accounting for 493 yards rushing, 212 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns in those three contests, pushing his season totals to 2,070 yards of total offense and 36 touchdowns. McCaffrey found the going tough against Cherokee Trail last season, as he needed 28 carries to go over 100 yards and was credited with a controversial touchdown in the fourth quarter. Cecil has thrown for 1,897 yards and 29 touchdowns against 5 interceptions, while senior WR Marcus Wilson has 509 yards and 4 TDs receiving. …Valor Christian’s defense has allowed an average of 18.3 points per game in playoffs. Senior LB Justin Falls is the team’s tackle leader with 89 in 12 games, while senior DE Nick Rigali tops the Eagles in sacks with 6.0 and junior DB Brian Dawkins Jr. has nabbed 5 of Valor Christian’s 15 interceptions. …WINNER GETS: The Valor Christian/Cherokee Trail winner advances to the 5A state championship game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where it will face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 Fairview (11-0) and No. 5 ThunderRidge (11-1).

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel