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PUEBLO — Loveland running back Zack Rakowsky’s helmet ripped off on the fourth-down run, his legs still churning beneath a small but mighty frame, as he powered through defenders like bowling pins.
Palmer Ridge knew what to expect on every play — run — and it still proved helpless to stop Rakowsky and his team’s steamroller offense on Friday night at the ThunderBowl. Loveland claimed the Class 4A football championship with a 42-6 victory in a game that it didn’t attempt a single pass.
“I don’t know the last team that won a state championship that never put the ball in the air once,” Loveland coach Jeff Mauck said. “We literally were determined to run 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 passing offense. No. 4 Loveland (9-0) lacked the same size and athleticism, but its system and discipline were flawless.
Loveland’s offense rushed for 345 yards and the defense forced six turnovers. Rakowksy — listed at a generous 5-foot-10 — played a hand in both totals. He ran for 163 yards with three touchdowns and intercepted two passes while playing defensive back.
“We knew that we were just as talented as them,” Rakowsky said. “We don’t get the recognition that they do. But we don’t need that. We knew that we were going to come in and win and that’s all that matters to us.”
Loveland’s first offensive series told the story.
Its 18-play drive, including a pair of Rakowksy fourth-down conversions, lasted almost 9 minutes before senior running back Jadyn Tafoya finally dove across the goal line. The dam broke and Loveland’s ground game couldn’t be stopped. LHS scored rushing touchdowns on its first three possessions for a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.
“That’s our brand of football,” Tafoya said. “That ground-and-pound is what got us here. Give us the ball and we’ll ram it down your throats. … We had a long drive and all the confidence in the world after that.”
Loveland’s defense was equally impressive, jumpstarted by the early playmaking of Hudson Voggesser. The sophomore outside linebacker recorded an interception, forced fumble and recovery. The Loveland pass rush kept McAllister uncomfortable all night with multiple sacks.
“(Defensive coordinator) Allan Jeffries put in some really cool blitzes that we haven’t used, ever,” Mauck said. “If we put some pressure on (McAllister), we felt like he would put some balls up in the air that we could take. … It was amazing.”
A typically prolific Palmer Ridge offense found life in the third quarter with a touchdown reception by senior wide receiver Marcellus Reed. But it was too little, too late. Rakowksy ripped off multiple 50-plus yard runs. Tafoya scored twice on the ground. Senior wide receiver Joe Killian also found the end zone on a reverse play.
Loveland players rushed the field after the victory and chanted one phrase — “dragon slayers” — as they hoisted the 4A trophy high above their heads. The mantra references the mentality in which Loveland competed this postseason to capture the eighth state football title in program history, and its second championship in three years. Loveland football is here to stay.
“We’re here and we’re not underdogs,” Rakowsky said. “We’re going to take down the beast.”