By Craig Harper
For the Courier
LAKEWOOD — With a little help from its rival, Columbine is back on top in the 5A Super 6 League. But are the Rebels heading into the 5A playoffs playing the type of football it takes to make a championship run?
Head coach Andy Lowry wasn’t so sure during the Oct. 24 regular-season finale against Bear Creek at Jeffco Stadium. The Rebels sweated out a 31-21 victory over the Bears, who struck with two quick passes to pull within 24-21 with 5 minutes, 24 seconds left, then drove to the Columbine 42-yard line before Drake Cantu’s pick-six sealed the Rebels’ eighth victory of the year and fourth straight since losing to Arapahoe.
“That was a gift,” Cantu said. “All I know is the quarterback was pressured and it landed right in my hands. It was a gift.”
The following night Chatfield presented the Rebels (8-1, 4-1) their second Super 6 title in three years by stunning Arapahoe on the final play of the game. But Lowry didn’t know quite what to think after Bear Creek, which played better than a 3-6 team, accounted for 429 yards of total offense, matched two Rebel first-half touchdowns and threw a Halloween-worthy scare into his team in the final six minutes after Jeremy Aparicio’s 27-yard field goal provided a 10-point lead.
“It was a dogfight,” Lowry said. “That’s kind of our league and that’s been our season. It’s been a dogfight every week. I don’t know why I get so fatigued and frustrated about it because it happens every single week.”
The Bears (1-4 5A Super 6) outgained Columbine 161-79 yards and held a 24-10 advantage in plays while building a 14-7 lead 19 seconds into the second quarter. Bernard McDondle, the Rebels’ star running back, fumbled on his first two carries. Bear Creek recovered the first one at the Columbine 27-yard line and turned it into the game’s first score.
The Rebels had two 72-yard touchdown drives in the first half with McDondle scoring from 2 and 8 yards out, but were outgained 235-159 yards.
“We’re just not that team where we can show up and blow people away,” Lowry said. “And if we don’t have the right mentality and that hunger, then this is what happens.”
Columbine awoke in the second half. McDondle (18 carries, 126 yards) broke a 51-yarder on the first play from scrimmage for his third scoring run and a 21-14 Rebels lead. The Bears threatened, reaching the Columbine 11, but the Rebels defense stuffed three straight running plays for no gain. The Rebels then drove 63 yards in 15 plays, converting twice on third down and once on fourth down. Aparicio, who rushed 21 times for a season-high 132 yards, hit on Columbine’s first field-goal attempt of the year for a 24-14 lead with 6:04 left.
But Bears quarterback Nick Madrid, who passed for 218 yards, completed a 30-yard toss to Christian Orizaba. On the following play, Madrid handed off to Trevaun Arnold, who pulled up and hit Olabisi Johnson for a 35-yard touchdown with 5:24 left.
Bear Creek forced a Columbine punt and, aided by a 24-yard scramble by Madrid on third-and-9, pushed the ball across midfield, where Cantu, a senior defensive back, made the play of his career with Madrid in the grasp of a defender as he let go of the pass.
“I’m proud of the kids, they persevered,” Lowry added.
Seventh-seeded Columbine will open the 32-team 5A state playoffs on Nov. 1 against No. 26 Hinkley at Jeffco Stadium. Game time is scheduled for 4 p.m.