COLORADO SPRINGS — It had been billed as a game that would have implications state-wide, even if the two schools were only a short bus ride apart. But by the time Pine Creek had finished off its 27-12 win over Palmer Ridge, everyone was reminded that a young football season has plenty of room to grow.
"That was sloppy," Pine Creek coach Todd Miller said after the game.
And it was that way on both sides. The Class 4A No. 1-ranked Eagles couldn't get the desired push from the offensive line, so rather than get the expected production from David Moore III, they had to look elsewhere for an offensive spark.
That's where Max Lofy came in. Working with a short field, quarterback Gavin Herberg found Lofy for a 31-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter to break the scoreless tie and put Pine Creek (1-0 overall) up 6-0.
What made the showdown with 3A No. 1 (and defending state champion) Palmer Ridge all the more interesting was the attention that the Eagles defense was going to have to give Bears quarterback Ty Evans. The senior University of Colorado commit put up sold numbers in 2017, but like Moore for Pine Creek, he struggled to get the production that he has grown accustomed to.
It seemed early when the Bears were down a score that Evans was trying to force the ball to his receivers and Lofy, already with an offensive touchdown, took advantage of an opportunity and picked off Evans, returning the ball for his second score of the night.
"It's preparation all week," Lofy said. "We see routes, we see drops. We play the game and we just happened to get one good pick and a touchdown catch."
With Evans, Anthony "Deuce" Roberson and defensive lineman Aidan Cullen returning for the Bears, there is little question over what the team will be able to do in the 3A ranks. Coming in as the No. 1 team in 4A, even local pundits were unsure of what was in store for Pine Creek.
Lofy's quick scores erased any doubts that lingered.
"We know he's a special kid," Miller said. "He's as talented as they get and he's kind of flown under the radar, but probably not anymore. He just has a lot of natural athleticism."
The bigger issue for the Eagles came from the offensive front. Moore ran the ball 24 times for 107 yards a carry, but only 37 of those yards came in the second half when the Eagles needed the running game to be effective the most.
"We struggled with the offensive line and that's my fault," Miller said. "We have to get that fixed."
The Bears came out of halftime looking like an entirely different team. Evans was 7 for 19 for 69 yards and two interceptions through the first two quarters. He settled into the pocket, finally putting together a drive that culminated in a Raef Ruel two-yard touchdown run.
Later, Evans found Anthony Costanzo for a 29-yard strike to put the Bears inside the Pine Creek four-yard line. Evans then found JC Sparks for the touchdown pass. Overall, he finished the night going 20 for 44 for 208 yards and a touchdown to go with three interceptions.
"We didn't get into a good rhythm early," Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. "It took us to the second half to play our brand of football. Hats off to Pine Creek, they did a very good job and those kids are well coached."
Up 20-12, the Eagles needed another score to put the game away. With less than six minutes remaining in the game, a personal foul penalty backed the Eagles up to a third and 24 situation.
Herberg found Nate Vasquez for a 14-yard gain, then on fourth and 10, a broken play led to Herberg finding Cameron Collins for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
"Honestly I was just trying to get that first down," Herberg said. "I saw him break open and I couldn't be happier."
Even with a sloppy game to start the season, a local rivalry showdown set the tone for Pine Creek who is on the hunt for its fourth state championship in six years. Next up for the Eagles is a road trip to Rio Rancho, N.M. where they feel like they'll be prepared for what awaits them.
"It was a pretty personal game for most of us on the team," Herberg said. "I think this hypes us up a little more for next week."