PUEBLO – Loveland ran back Zack Rakowsky’s helmet was ripped off on the fourth downhill, his legs still spinning under a small but mighty frame as he shot through defenders like bowling pins.
Palmer Ridge knew what to expect with each piece – run – and it still proved helpless to stop Rakowsky and his team’s Friday night steamroller attack at the ThunderBowl. Loveland claimed the Class 4A football championship with a 42-6 victory in a match it made no attempt.
“I don’t know the last team to win a state championship that never got the ball in the air once,” said Loveland coach Jeff Mauck. “We were literally determined to win them over.”
On paper, No. 2 Palmer Ridge (6-1) was more talented with a bevy of future Division-I players led by senior quarterback Luke McAllister (CSU) and the Bears’ dynamic offense. No. 4 Loveland (9-0) lacked the same size and athleticism, but the system and discipline were impeccable.
Loveland’s attack sped to 350 yards and the defense forced six turns. Rakowksy – listed at a generous 5-foot-10 – played a hand in both totals. He ran 163 yards with three touchdowns and intercepted two passes while playing defensively.
“We knew we were just as talented as they were,” said Rakowsky. “We don’t get the recognition that they do. But we don’t need that. We knew we were going to win and that’s all that matters to us. “
Loveland’s first offensive series told the story.
The 18-play drive, including a few Rakowksy fourth-down conversions, lasted nearly 9 minutes before senior running Jadyn Tafoya finally dived over the goal line. The dam broke and Loveland’s ground game could not be stopped. LHS scored hasty touchdowns on its first three possessions before an impressive 21-0 halftime.
“That’s our brand of football,” said Tafoya. ‘That soil and pound brought us here. Give us the ball and we’ll ram it down your throat. … We had a long drive and then full confidence in the world. “
Loveland’s defense was equally impressive, triggered by Hudson Voggesser’s early play. The sophomore outside linebacker registered an interception, forced fumble, and recovery. The Loveland Pass rush kept McAllister uncomfortable with multiple bags all night.
“(Defensive Coordinator) Allan Jeffries put in some really cool blitzes that we’ve never used,” Mauck said. “If we put some pressure on (McAllister), we felt like he would put some balls in the air for us to get hold of. … It was amazing.”
A typically prolific Palmer Ridge strike found life in the third quarter with a touchdown reception from senior wide receiver Marcellus Reed. But it was too little, too late. Rakowksy has conned multiple runs over 50 yards. Tafoya scored twice on the ground. Senior wide receiver Joe Killian also liked the end zone on a reverse play.
Loveland players rushed the field after the win, chanting one sentence – “dragon slayers” – as they hoisted the 4A trophy high above their heads. The mantra refers to the mindset in which Loveland competed this post-season to win the eighth state title in program history and the second championship in three years. Loveland football is here to stay.
“We are here and we are not underdogs,” Rakowsky said. “We’re going to take the beast down.”