U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Big players make big plays.
Saturday, in the Class 3A state football championship, there was no bigger player than Palmer Ridge quarterback Ty Evans.
Evans, just a junior, who committed early to SEC school Arkansas before decommitting last week, lit up the Erie Tigers for over 350 yards of total offense as his Bears claimed its first state title, 46-21, on a neutral field at Falcon Stadium.
Evans went a healthy 18-for-22 for 356 yards, passing for three touchdowns and running for another, as the Bears completed a perfect season in winning the state championship.
“I had a lot of things on my mind,” Evans said, referring, but to his decommitment to Arkansas, “but I had to stick to myself and think about this this game, which deserves 100 percent focus.”
It was evident that not only Evans, but the rest of the Palmer Ridge squad, was focused immediately.
On the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, Evans hit sophomore receiver Anthony “Deuce” Roberson on an option route down the left sideline, the 56-yard touchdown pass giving the Bears a quick 7-0 lead.
“On that first play, I wanted to see if Deuce got singled up,” Evans said, “and if he did, we were going to go for it.”
Roberson said once he saw he was in 1-on-1 coverage, he knew the first play would work.
“Coach (Tom Pulford) drew it up,” Roberson said, “and I had the option to run it out, go vertical or a post. And me and (Evans), since week one, have gotten that route down. I got inside, saw there was no safety covering, so I ran a vertical and he hit me.”
After going up 14-0 before Erie could muster a single first down, the Tigers came back. erasing Palmer Ridge’s two touchdown first-quarter lead on a pair of touchdowns by Erie’s Noah Roper.
Roper, who ran 32 times for 94 yards as well as going 3-for-6 passing for 86 yards, ran for the Tigers’ first touchdown before hitting Jacob Mansdorger on a rainbow 30-yard touchdown pass, tying the game up 14-14 with 5:44 left in the first half.
For a Palmer Ridge squad that went over 500 yards of total offense in half of its games this season, it was a wake-up call.
“I’m proud of their resiliency,” Pulford said. “When it was tied, they got back up and went going, doing it for each other and playing Palmer Ridge football.”
The Bears struck back again with another long touchdown pass to Robertson on a slant over the middle through two defenders, this one coming on a 69-yarder, to give the Bears a 20-14 lead.
After that, the Bears would never trail again.
“They started coming back,” Roberson said, “and we had a little bit of adversity. The (touchdown play) was designed to come back to me, and the way they were covering, it didn’t allow me to run the right route. But (Evans) put it near me, and I knew I was going to split the two (defenders) and go.”
Erie would get as close as 26-21 in the third quarter, but back-to-back touchdowns by senior Andrew Miller, first catching an Evans pass for a 9-yard touchdown, then following it up with a special score.
As Erie punted from its own 10-yard-line, Palmer Ridge junior Garrett Marchetti blocked the punt as Miller recovered it in the end zone, giving the Bears a 39-21 lead that was insurmountable.
It closed out a ride that began in 2012, with Pulford took over a 2-8 team that eventually became a 13-0 state champion.
“We had to change the culture,” Pulford said, “and what the expectations were in the offseason. All those things helped us get a little bit closer to where we wanted to be.”
With a squad that includes a lot players that will come back next season, like Evans and Roberson, the ride continues, Robertson said.
“Obviously, next year, it’s nothing less,” Roberson said. “But we’re going to focus on what we have here, and celebrate with my brothers.”