MONUMENT — This highly-anticipated Class 3A battle on the gridiron between Pueblo East and Palmer Ridge lived up to the hype.
At least for senior Pueblo East stars Kain Medrano and Luc Andrada anyway.
Medrano had three interceptions and ran one back 55 yards for a score and caught a 41-yard touchdown pass and knocked the final pass of the game down in the end zone as time expired.
Andrada, meanwhile, chipped in two touchdown passes and a 5-yard score run.
Those performances powered the Eagles, ranked No. 3 by CHSAANow.com, past the No. 2-ranked Bears 28-21 Friday night at Don Breese Stadium.
“This was a crazy game,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Medrano, who is verbally committed to UCLA. “We came in more prepared, I think, and we were able to take advantage of the opportunities we were given.”
East, which won the Class 3A state championship three years in a row from 2014-16, improved to 3-0 on the season. Palmer Ridge, the reigning Class 3A state champ,s dropped to 1-2.
“This was a great win,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Andrada said. “We haven’t had a win like this in a while. Our defense played great and we just came together as a team. We need to build on this and keep our momentum going.”
The Eagles’ defense did rise to the occasion. They caused the Bears to commit seven turnovers. Ty Evans, Palmer Ridge’s senior quarterback who is committed to the University of Colorado, was 22-of-41 passing for 173 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.
“It wasn’t one thing multiple times,” said Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford about the turnovers. “We have to protect the football and we will make sure we do that from here on out. Adversity builds character and character helps us to improve and stick together and move forward. Everything is still out in front of us. We’ve played some very good football teams and we know what this team is capable of and now it is time to go back and improve on the things we have identified and get better.”
Despite all the miscues, the Bears still had a chance to potentially tie the game, facing a third-down-and-10 with 3.1 seconds to play from the Eagles’ 36-yard line. Evans launched a pass into the back-right corner of the end zone, but Medrano, playing free safety, swatted it to the ground.
“I had to beat that ball down,” Medrano said. “I couldn’t let anybody catch it.”
Leading 21-14 at half, the Eagles immediately increased their advantage to 28-14 when Medrano intercepted a pass — his third pick of the game — and returned it 55 yards for a score 29 second into the third quarter,
The Bears answered back when Raef Ruel muscled in for a 4-yard score with 7:53 showing on the third-quarter clock to get within 28-21, which is where the score would remain until the final buzzer.
East’s offense disappeared in third quarter as the Eagles had minus-22 yards rushing.
Palmer Ridge was on the verge of tying the game, Ruel after gaining 2 yards on a fourth-down-and-2 fumbled at it was recovered by the Eagles at their own 30-yard line with 7:16 to play. That was the Bears’ seventh turnover.
The first half wasn’t pretty, but effective for the Eagles.
Andrada ran in a 5-yard touchdown and then tossed two scores of 55 yards to Kaden Bowman and 41 yards to Medrano as East took a 21-14 into the locker room at intermission.
Medrano also had 43 yards rushing in the first half.
Evans, meanwhile, couldn’t get in any rhythm in the first 24 minutes as he completed 12 passes for only 96 yards and he threw three interceptions.
Evans did fire a 13-yard touchdown to Kaden Dudley and Ruel added a 10-yard run to tie the score with 3:45 remaining in the second quarter, but Medrano gave East the seven-point lead on his scoring reception with 53.2 seconds left in the half.
“You can’t replace a kid like Kain, he is the heart and soul of the team and he and Luc connected big-time on offense was huge,” East coach Andy Watts said. “I told our kids we need to keep grinding and don’t be satisfied.”