PUEBLO — Week 3 of the regular season was a high note for the Pueblo East Eagles. Not so much for Palmer Ridge. East had traveled to Monument and handed the Bears their second loss of the year. Overall, they had fallen to 1-2.
With a Pac 12 recruit on each roster and the fact that the two teams had combined to win the previous four Class 3A state championships, the idea of a rematch in the playoffs instantly became enticing for fans of both teams, the local media and, of course, the players.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to compete," Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. "East has a rich tradition. They’ve won three in a row and that was with three different head coaches. At the end of the day, the cream rises to the top. Coach Watts and his staff has done a great job over there with his players and we’re looking forward to competing at a high level.”
There might not be anyone more excited for round two than Palmer Ridge quarterback Ty Evans. The University of Colorado commit had high expectations coming into 2018, but that Week 3 game against East didn't go as planned. He threw five interceptions, three of which to UCLA commit Kain Medrano. Ever since, Evans has been looking forward to a chance at redemption.
“The whole defense played well that game," Evans said. "And that was probably one of the worst games I’ve played in my life, to be honest. Since that game, we’ve said that we’d see them again.”
He'll get his shot on Saturday at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl on the campus of CSU-Pueblo.
The Bears (11-2 overall) are the designated home team but the game will be played just minutes away from Pueblo East High School. Evans and his teammates are looking forward to the raucous Pueblo crowd that is sure to show up.
“I’ve played sports my whole life and I’ve played in countless hostile environments," Evans said. "Everyone is trying to get into your head and everyone is trying to find a way to get their edge over you. The more you win in those environments the more it helps you in situations like this. We fully go out and expected to be the most hated people in the stadium. That’s how we approach every road game and it’s worked for us.”
There is no sense from anyone wearing Pueblo East gear that winning the game is a forgone conclusion. And the one thing that the Eagles (11-2) know for certain is that Evans will not repeat the performance of their first matchup. They have no doubt that last year's 3A player of the year will come out sharp and if Medrano is to have similar success, he also needs to up his game.
“I do think that he’s going to be better than he was last time," Medrano said. "He won’t do that as much. I just have to trust my technique and know that if (an opportunity for an interception) is there, I have to go get it.”
At Wednesday's press conference, each coach admitted that they have looked at tape from the previous matchup and tried to learn what they can ahead of Saturday's showdown.
It's often said in sports that beating a team twice in one year is very difficult to do. East coach Andy Watts certainly gives credence to that line of thinking, but as he prepares for Saturday it helps him to remember that the mental edge of having already beaten his upcoming opponent also plays a role.
“It’s very challenging in any sport at any level," Watts said. "It’s tough on the team that won the first battle. But there is still pressure on them, we’ve proven that we can beat them and that they’re beatable. It will be tough for both teams. We both know what we’re getting into.”
They're getting into a rematch of Week 3, plain and simple. Only this time, there is hardware at stake. East will look to win its fourth title in five years. The Bears are looking to go back-to-back.
The showdown begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday.