PUEBLO — With a chance to make history, the Pueblo East football team seized the moment.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles’ defense converted a safety and then moments later running back Bryson Torres raced 80 yards for a touchdown, propelling East to a 30-14 win over Rifle Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game before 8,125 fans at Dutch Clark Stadium.
This was East’s first state football title since the school opened in 1959.
“We needed to get in the backfield and make a play,” said defensive lineman Donny Garcia, who was part of the swarm tackle in the end zone for the safety. “Luckily, he (Rifle quarterback Layton Stutsman) went back for a pass and Damon (Sabbagh) hit him and their lineman caught it deep in the end zone and then we just gang tackled him.
"This is great feeling to be the first one over here on the East Side to win a football state championship and represent Pueblo the way we did.”
East finished the season with an 11-3 record and on an eight-game winning streak. The Eagles were playing in the school’s inaugural football state championship. East’s best finish in football came in 2012 when they advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals before losing at home to Rifle 56-6.
This was East’s third athletic state championship, joining the 2012 Class 4A softball and 2014 Class 4A boys basketball title teams.
“I knew if I kept running hard one was going to break and I just had to be patient,” said Torres, who finished with 156 yards on 21 carries. “I saw some green and I just ran as hard as I could. It was so exciting to get that touchdown. This feels like a dream right now.”
East took a 16-14 lead on the safety with 10:25 remaining in the game, right after East quarterback Danny Martin turned the ball over on downs after being stopped inside the Rifle 1-yard line.
The 6-foot-1, 270-pound Garcia was a catalyst in Torres’ run which came with 10:12 on the clock.
“I’m the center on offense and we left seven points on the field, I knew we had to step up when we got the ball back,” Garcia said. “The key for us is to always take our steps and that’s exactly what we did on that play. We took our steps and sealed them off and I actually got the nose guard and that freed up the hole for Bryson to get free.”
Rifle was playing in its fourth state championship since 2004 and has captured two state crowns outright in 2004 (Class 3A), and 1973 (Class AA) and shared the Class A title with Louisville in 1961 when the teams tied 6-6. The Bears ended the season with a 12-2 record.
The Bears have played in six state championship football games, losing in the Class A finals in 1952, 3A finals in 2005, and most recently the Class 3A finals in 2012 to Silver Creek 32-15.
“They had a great pass rush and knocked the ball loose,” said Rifle coach Damon Wells about the safety which swung the momentum in East’s favor.
Holding a 23-14 edge, Martin secured the coveted win for the Eagles as he dipped and dashed in for a 22-yard score with 8:33 remaining. Martin finished with a game-high 192 yards rushing and 87 yards passing.
“We just knew we had to keep our heads up,” Martin, a junior, said. “We had to keep pounding and pounding and win the state title. It is all about big plays and we did the job. This is incredible to win state. I can’t believe this just happened.”
The first half had plenty of fireworks, but not much scoring.
The Eagles had two great first quarter scoring opportunities end with zero points.
Matin’s pass in the left corner of the end zone on 4th-and-7 and the Bears 7-yard line fell incomplete. Moments later, East was in business again when cornerback Kevin Ribarich intercepted Rifle quarterback Stutsman’s pass.
The Eagles faltered again when Martin fumbled and the Bears recovered at their own 3-yard line.
Rifle finally ended the scoreless battle when Ty Leyba caught a pass from Stutsman over the middle and raced 37 yards in for the touchdown with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
East finally countered and tied the game at 7-7 on Martin’s 5-yard run 7:33 until the half.
The Eagle offense moved the ball in the first half via Martin’s legs and arm. The junior had 126 yards rushing on 16 carries and 53 yards passing. Rifle had 117 yards of offensive the first two quarters paced by Blaine Vance’s 41 yards rushing on five carries.
In the third quarter, Rifle gained control on a 33-yard pass from Stutsman to Tyler Bosshardt and then on the next play Brock Clark sprinted 39 yards to give the Bears the lead at 14-7 lead 31 seconds into the third quarter.
East tied game at 14-all on a clutch 8-yard scoring reception by Bruno DeRose from Martin at 5:53 of the third quarter on 4th-down-3.
“Before the game started I knew I was going to have a big role in the passing game,” said 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior DeRose. “I came out and I was able to capitalize on a lot of things. I will remember winning this state championship forever. It’s crazy.”