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The Will to Win: Teams look for the magic combination to land them into the promised land

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By Michael Hicks

It’s the ultimate prize – winning a state championship. For some — Columbine, Chatfield — they’ve tasted that glory. For others — Evergreen, Dakota Ridge and Platte Canyon — they’ve come painstakingly close only to come up short. The rest — Littleton, Front Range Christian, Conifer and Clear Creek — continue to search for the winning combination. What is it? It’s hard work, effort, sacrifice and dedication. It’s luck. It’s all of the above. And it’s a feeling like no other.

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It’s a feeling that never gets old. Be it the first time or last year’s fifth championship since 1999, the joy of winning a state football title is sheer euphoria for Andy Lowry. It always bring an infectious smile.
The Columbine head coach has a pretty good handle on what it takes to be successful. He’s seen it quite a bit over the years.
“It starts by having great kids who are committed to work hard. They sacrifice a lot of things the rest of the student body don’t want to sacrifice,” Lowry said. “The kids work extremely hard.
“Second is having great coaching, great coaches, great teachers and role models for these guys and the support of (Columbine principal) Frank (DeAngelis), the administration, faculty and community. It takes everybody’s continued support, and it takes a lot of luck. It takes the kids believing and being safe from injuries.”
For the better part of a decade, Columbine has had all of that. From the 1999 team’s 21-14 come-from-behind win at Cherry Creek to last year’s 41-31 shootout victory over Jeffco rival Lakewood at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Columbine has been one the faces of 5A football in the state. No school — not even Mullen — has won as many big school titles in that time frame.
And from the starters down to the last man on the roster, it’s a team effort. Lowry knows that full-well. In 2006, all-state lineman Ryan Miller dealt with concussions. Last year, injuries nearly crippled the Rebels’ defense and forced starting quarterback Justin Brown to miss the first three playoff games. Yet everytime somebody stepped up. But what does it take technically to win a state title? Evergreen head coach Rob Molholm says he has an idea.
“It’s blocking, tackling and not turning over the ball and not having penalties and working on those on a consistent basis,” Molholm said. “Offensively, we have ball control and not hurting our defense, and on defense we have a very aggressive, strong defense.”
Molholm knows a thing or two about winning. After all, he’s a 1998 Wheat Ridge graduate. In 1996, the Farmers won the 4A state title with a 21-20 victory over Greeley Central.
“I was born and raised with champions coming from Wheat Ridge. Other than a couple of years in there that’s all Wheat Ridge has known since the 1960s is winning football,” Molholm said.
That was quite the change from when he came to Evergreen. The Cougars had rarely seen the postseason, much less tasted playoff success. Evergreen reached the playoffs in back-to-back years in the late 1990s, reaching the 3A state finals in 1999. It was in the postseason two times prior as well, but only once — in 2004 — had Evergreen gotten there since that ’99 team before Molholm led the Cougars to back-to-back appearances in 2010 and ’11.
“Coming up here it was different. It was real different compared to Wheat Ridge,” Molholm said.
But while Columbine and Chatfield, the 2001 5A state champion, have tasted glory, others, such as Evergreen, Dakota Ridge and Platte Canyon, have come painstakingly close only to come up short. Dakota Ridge, after losing to ThunderRidge by just three points during the regular season, was upended 45-29 in the 4A finals in 2004. Underdogs Platte Canyon and Platte Valley met in the 2A championship game three years later, won by the latter 21-7.
Coming so close only to be denied was heartbreaking at the time. But now it serves to fuel the fire for this year’s team and those to follow to complete the task.
“Certainly we would’ve liked to have done a little better in the state championship game,” Platte Canyon head coach Mike Schmidt said. “Probably with us not getting it we look back and say if we’d change this or done that things would’ve been different. (But) it also has given us reason to strive to be the best. So we’re going to try again this year.”