The declaration was a bit premature for a preseason interview, but it turns out left tackle Zack Bennett had it right after all.
The Rocky Mountain High football team really is the best in the state.
The Grizzlies rode their punishing ground game to a 5A state championship, toppling top-ranked and previously undefeated Mountain View 41-22 on Saturday afternoon at Albertsons Stadium.
It is the first state championship in program history for the Grizzlies and comes on their first try.
Bennett had a hunch about his team in August when he told a reporter that Rocky Mountain was the best team in the state. The offensive line did its part as the Grizzlies (11-1) streamrolled the Mavericks (11-1) for 499 yards on the ground.
“This morning we walked around the cafeteria and looked at all the other state title banners up there with all the signatures,” Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner said. “I told the team that’s where your destiny leads you. Those guys are forever on the wall if you win a state title. Everybody from the cheer team to volleyball to track, but there’s no football. I walked over to an empty spot and said, ‘This is where we’ll go.’
“Our kids, you could just see it in their eyes. They all looked and nodded their head. I knew. I knew they were going to come out and play at a high level.”
Rocky Mountain senior running back Jake Roper finished with 308 yards on the ground. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder averaged 9.6 yards per carry and scored five of the Grizzlies’ six touchdowns.
Roper tied 5A state title game records for rushing touchdowns and most total points (30) in a game.
“He’s player of the year. That guy is for real,” Criner said. “That guy has unbelievable vision. He sees the field. He’s about a foot off the ground when he runs, and he’s so physical running north and south. You can’t arm-tackle him. He’s the real deal.”
After committing six turnovers in a 44-20 loss to Mountain View on Sept. 3, the Grizzlies hoped their paths would cross again.
“It feels really, really, really good, and well-deserved, if I’m being honest,” Roper said. “We all knew we were ready for this game, and we’ve been waiting for it all season.”
It really sets the tone for the next generation, and I think that it’s going to be really big for the community, for the school and especially for the guys in the locker room right now.
JOEY TUCCINARDI, Rocky Mountain defensive lineman
Although it was their first championship appearance, the Grizzlies handled their opening drive as if they’d been there before.
It took just five plays and a little less than two minutes for Rocky Mountain to cover 80 yards as senior quarterback Christian Blaser scampered in from 32 yards out for the first score.
The Rocky defense held Mountain View to a three-and-out on its first possession, and Calin Criner returned the ensuing punt 54 yards to the Mavericks’ 4-yard line.
Two plays later, Roper was celebrating the first of his five TDs for a 14-0 Rocky Mountain lead.
“The difference between the first game and this game was we didn’t try to do anything tricky,” Scott Criner said. “We just came at them. We talked all week about just executing.”
7 tackles each for Kyle Frazier and Calin Criner to lead Rocky Mountain’s defense
A 24-yard field goal from Mati Lamberti pulled Mountain View within 28-22 with 3:59 to play in the third quarter, but Rocky Mountain bottled up the Mavericks the rest of the way. The Grizzlies forced Mountain View to turn it over on downs three more times, while Roper added two 1-yard scores — and had another TD called back in the final minute — to usher in the official celebration.
“We always had confidence in ourselves, and we knew we could do it,” Roper said. “We knew we worked the hardest out of everyone in the state and when it was our time, we would get it.”