PUEBLO — The final credits didn’t roll on Pueblo East's football season Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback Luc Andrada and UCLA-bound receiver Kain Medrano, both seniors, weren’t about to let that happen.
Andrada had two rushing touchdowns and Medrano had one TD reception and 102 yards receiving, powering the Eagles to a 35-17 victory over Erie in a Class 3A semifinal game at Dutch Clark Stadium.
“I was little nervous at first, but it is about adversity, and that’s when real leaders are made,” said Andrada, who overcame two first-quarter interceptions. “I had to bounce back and not let my team down and this was a huge win for us. Our defense flew around like their hair was on fire and they made play after play and made it easy on me.”
East improved to 11-2 overall and advances to play Palmer Ridge (11-2) in the Class 3A state championship game at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl in Pueblo. Palmer Ridge, which beat Palisade 42-7 on the road Saturday, is the reigning Class 3A state champ. East beat Palmer Ridge 28-21 on Sept. 7 at Don Breese Stadium in Monument.
“We need to rest up Sunday and come back Monday and do our thing,” said Medrano, who had seven receptions and 21 yards rushing. “We need to focus all week and I think it is going to be a great game. I can’t wait.”
In that game earlier this season against Palmer Ridge, East caused seven turnovers – five which were interceptions of Bears quarterback Ty Evans, who will play for Colorado next season in Boulder.
“I’m excited (to play Palmer Ridge again),” said Andrada, who had a game-high 132 yards rushing and 230 yards through the air Saturday. “It was meant to be and we’re going to be ready.”
The Eagles also are no stranger to the title game. Pueblo East won three consecutive 3A football titles from 2014-2016. Erie ended its season with a 12-1 record. The Tigers lost to Palmer Ridge a year ago in the 3A championship. Erie won its lone state football crown in 1997.
The Tigers were playing without their star running back Noah Roper. The senior, who accounted for 2,421 yards of total offense and 37 touchdowns broke his left leg in the third quarter of the Tigers’ 34-0 win over Green Mountain in the quarterfinals last Friday. Roper also was a force on defense as a cornerback/safety.
"We just didn't do a good job of being consistent with all 11 guys,” Erie coach Chad Cooper said. “It was one guy here, one guy there. Sometimes Noah made up for that at times, but I just think we didn't execute like we normally execute offensively. Credit to them on defense, but we just didn't execute up front, outside, like we normally do with or without Noah."
The first quarter was marked by miscues – two interceptions by Andrada and two failed fourth-down attempts – one by Erie at the East 20-yard line and one by East at the Erie 9. On that play, the Medrano caught a short pass and tried to bull his way into the end zone but was stopped inches short.
Moments later, the Eagles were in business when Erie punter Julian Custine bobbled a high snap in the back of his own end zone. Custine tried to run but fumbled and the ball was recovered by East at the Erie 2-yard line. After a 5-yard penalty, Andrada zigged and zagged his way in for a 7-yard score at the 11:30 mark of the second quarter.
Erie kept battling and cut the deficit to 7-3 on Custine’s 36-yard field goal with 6:51 remaining until half.
Then, the Eagles came alive.
East marched down the field and Noah Rivera scored from two yards out to give East a 14-3 edge with 2:37 showing on the second-quarter clock. The key play on the drive was a 34-yard reception by Medrano from Andrada on fourth-down-and-2 from the Erie 36.
“Our mindset was we prepared like Noah Roper was going to play,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Medrano. “That’s what we did, and we executed very well. They had double coverage and it is hard to beat it, but we did well with how they covered us.”
East kept its foot on the gas and Andrada sped in for a 2-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left in the half, giving East a 21-3 advantage.
The Eagles kept soaring in the second half. On their first possession, Medrano had a slick 22-yard reception along the left sideline during the drive. For good measure, Medrano added a nifty 3-yard touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone, putting the Eagles up 28-3 at 7:25 of the third quarter.
Erie tried to keep things interesting with Jaymeson Nelms’ 13-yard scoring reception from Dion Lucero to get the Tigers within 28-10 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Once again East answered with 3-yard TD run by Patrick Gonzales to put the Eagles up 35-10 with 11:10 remaining in the game.