GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Fans on both sides of the stands knew that if the Class 5A state football semifinal between Cherry Creek and Columbine came down to a field goal, the Bruins would have no problems racking up three points between the uprights.
Unfortunately for Columbine, that’s exactly what the Nov. 22 game came down to.
RC Willenbrock scored the game-winner with just two seconds remaining on the clock to give Cherry Creek the 27-25 victory at the Stutler Bowl. The Bruins will play Mullen in the state championship Nov. 29 at Invesco Field.
“He’s pretty awesome,” Columbine coach Andy Lowry said of Willenbrock. “They’re a well-coached team and they played hard. Mike (Brookhart) deserves a ton of credit. With three minutes to go it was just a great high school football game. I’m really proud of our kids. They played every single down, even down to the last one. It just turned out that we were on the wrong side at the end.”
Willenbrock had oohed and awed the crowd all day with his tremendously long and high kicks. The ball sailed way past the end zone each time Willenbrock got a chance to turn his laces out and the Rebels were given just three chances all day to start anywhere except their own 20-yard line – one opportunity coming after a Columbine safety, a second chance after a fumble recovery and a third when the wind picked up late in the game.
Trailing 24-19 with three minutes to play, the Rebels embarked on what they thought was their own game-winning drive.
Columbine (11-2) started its drive on its own 29-yard line and with the help of rushing yards from quarterback Danny Spond and running back Phillip Romero, plus a 14-yard reception by Demetrius McDondle, the Rebels found themselves in Bruins territory rather quickly.
Spond capped the eight-play drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Wiggins, pushing the Rebels out in front, 25-24 with just 47 seconds remaining. The two-point pass conversion failed, and that would prove to play a big part in the game’s final outcome.
Cherry Creek quarterback Kain Colter, who was 10-for-14 for 144 yards passing in just the first half of the game, completed two quick passes, then followed with a 45-yard rocket to TJ Shantz, who took the ball all the way down to the Columbine 18-yard line.
That was close enough for Willenbrock, who made the 35-yard field goal with just two seconds remaining in the game.
“Honestly, we had it,” said a teary-eyed Wiggins who was stunned after the Columbine loss. “I didn’t think there was any way we were going to give up that many yards in that amount of time. They just came to play.”
Willenbrock not only had the game-winning field goal, but he also put up the game’s first points on the board with a 33-yard field goal and added three extra points for the Bruins.
The Rebels’ players were not only shocked after the game, but the stands were eerily quiet. After fighting to come from behind in the final minutes, the fans were as rocked as the players.
“We just knew we needed to make a play to come back,” Spond said of his final touchdown pass to Wiggins. “Unfortunately, they knew how to make plays at the end of the game as well. We knew we couldn’t let them cross the 50, but they made the clutch play when they needed it. Creek deserves a lot of credit.”
Besides Willenbrock being a threat, the Rebels had to contend with Colter’s passing and rushing all day. Colter finished 18-for-24 for 254 yards passing and three touchdowns. He also racked up 76 yards rushing. Cherry Creek’s top receiver was Shantz with 155 yards.
“We knew (Colter) was so dangerous,” Lowry said. “He took down the state champs (Grandview) a week ago and on third down, Colter pulls through.”
In fact, Colter converted eight third-down plays into first downs.
Columbine’s offense was nothing to sneer at either. Spond finished with 133 yards rushing in the first half and added another 49 in the second half.
Romero rushed for 38 yards in the first half and had a whopping 138 yards in the second half. McDondle had a total of 54 yards in the game.
“We started this season saying we would do it all for the team and not for ourselves,” Spond added. “We gave it all we got and I love these guys. They’re going to go on and do great things.”