Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 | 11:59 p.m.
On the opening drive of Friday night’s game, the Faith Lutheran football team drove straight down the field for a touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Sagan Gronauer’s touchdown toss to Noah Vernon was called back due to a holding penalty, and Faith Lutheran wouldn’t find the endzone again all night.
Faith Lutheran was shut out 35-0 on opening night by Colorado powerhouse Valor Christian.
“It’s not the expectation,” coach Vernon Fox said. “With the work you put in, you obviously expect a different result, but at the end of the day you take it for what it is and try to learn from it.”
Valor Christian quarterback Luke McCaffrey — the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey and younger brother of Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey — scored three total touchdowns to lead the Eagles.
McCaffrey threw a 10-yard strike to Gavin Sawchuk as time expired in the second quarter. The score extended Valor Christian’s lead to 21-0 entering halftime and deflated Faith Lutheran after 24 minutes of hard-fought defense.
The Crusaders’ defense was stout early, forcing multiple three-and-outs by the Eagles’ vaunted offense.
“We came out aggressive and fast,” said Faith Lutheran linebacker Ma'a Gaoteote, who has verbally committed to USC. “The defense meshed well together and played how we wanted early. We are a fast, physical defense that sets the tempo high.”
The Crusaders’ offense couldn’t get out of its own way with penalties. After getting the initial touchdown called back, the third offensive drive fell short over a holding call after a promising start.
“I’m a big guy on consistency, so I’m not a big fan of rollercoasters and starting fast and not finishing strong, so it’s hard for me in this moment — without seeing the film — to say I’m happy with what they did,” Fox said.
Faith Lutheran’s offensive line struggled immensely with the Valor Christian front seven in the first half, mustering only 35 rushing yards and giving up four sacks.
In the second half they were much better at opening lanes for sophomore back Julian Rohan.
“We did well blocking at times opening up (some holes),” Fox said. “Sagan (Gronauer) read well because those plays are predicated on him reading whether he’s going to keep or give it, and Julian found some holes and got into some open space, made a couple guys miss.”
Rohan carried the ball 14 times for 153 yards for Faith Lutheran.
McCaffrey, who is verbally committed to Nebraska, iced the game for Valor Christian with two rushing touchdowns in the second half, including a 48-yard scramble for a score.
“He’s a mobile guy,” Fox said. “In my mind it’s like a running back playing quarterback. There were times when we covered well downfield and he used those opportunities to spread us out and get running. He showed his athleticism that time popping one off long. You take your hat off to him.”
McCaffery finished the game with 122 yards on the ground and 12-of-20 for 176 yards through the air.
“The kid is fast and mobile,” Gaoteote said. “He makes plays and is good at making something out of nothing. It’s crazy.”
It wasn’t the result Faith Lutheran hoped for, but Valor Christian has won two of the last three state championships in Colorado and was a tough test.
It’s the sixth-straight year the Crusaders have started the season with a loss, but they’ve bounced back, including last season when they closed the year on a six-game win streak before falling to Bishop Gorman in the playoffs.
“Around here I’ve struggled to call moments like this losses,” Fox said. “I call them lessons because I feel like there’s something that can be learned and you can get better from it.”
Next up the Crusaders will host another out-of-state opponent, as they welcome Bakersfield Christian High School to Las Vegas next Friday.
“I’m excited about the future still,” Fox said. “I feel the same about this team. It doesn’t change my mind or my heart in reference to who we are as a team or what we can accomplish.”