PUEBLO — Make it two Class 3A state football championships in a row for Palmer Ridge, thanks to a big third quarter.
The Bears rallied and scored 20 points in the quarter to propel themselves to a 47-38 victory Saturday at the Neta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl on the Colorado State University-Pueblo campus.
“Adversity helps us develop perseverance and perseverance helps define our character and our character can give us hope,” Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. “When we get tested on the field we know it is refining us into becoming something better, a better version of ourselves and I think we came out of this game a better version of ourselves. I’m proud of the way our kids responded in those adverse moments and this was a great accomplishment.”
Palmer Ridge capped its memorable season with a 12-2 record and avenged a 28-21 loss to the Eagles Sept. 7. East ended its season 11-3 and was trying to win its fourth state title in five years.
“East is a good football team and I knew they were going to score,” said Palmer Ridge quarterback Ty Evans, who is signed to play at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “We had to be calm, cool and collected the whole way and I wanted to be steady for everybody else. This is surreal to win again.”
Evans finished the game 14-of-25 passing for 185 yards, quite a difference from his five-interception performance in the loss to the Eagles earlier this season. Bears’ Running back Raef Ruel was superb rushing for 132 yards and three scores and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“This is very rewarding,” said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior Ruel. “Most people don’t win one state championship and winning two is insane.”
The win was a hard fought one for the Bears.
To start the second half, East took the early momentum, thanks to a trick play. On second down and eight from their own 22-yard line, quarterback Andrada tossed a quick pass to the right sideline to Marvin London, who ran forward for a moment, but while he was still behind the line of scrimmage, tossed a 78-yard pass to Patrick Gonzales who was wide open down the field. East failed on the two-point conversion pass, giving them a 32-27 edge with 11:15 in the third.
Trailing 32-27 early in the third quarter, the Bears went to work.
Palmer Ridge answered with a strong mix pass and run and took the lead 33-32 on 5-yard touchdown run by Ruel with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Palmer Ridge extended its lead 40-32 when defensive end Aidan Cullen intercepted an Andrada screen pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown at the 7:12 mark of third.
“What changed the momentum big time is when Aiden got that pick-six because no one expected that to happen,” Ruel said.
After a failed fake punt by East, the Bears had the ball at the Eagles’ 25-yard line. Noah Brom made East pay with an 8-yard scoring run to give the Bears a 47-32 edge with 5:30 of third.
East couldn’t get closer than nine points the remainder of the game.
“I think it was missed opportunities,” East coach Andy Watts said. “We failed to convert in a couple of situations and we made a couple of bad decisions. I just couldn’t be happy with the way my boys played. They fought tooth and nail to the end and Palmer Ridge is a good team and you spot a team like that 14 points and expect to win.”
The Eagles were led by seniors – Andrada and UCLA-bound receiver Kain Medrano. Andrada had 278 yards passing and three scores, all to Medrano, who had six catches for 129 yards.
The game was an endless roller-coaster ride from start to finish.
Ruel got the scoring going with a 29-yard touchdown with 10:36 left in the first quarter. East countered when Andrada tossed a 23-yard scoring reception by Kane Medrano along the right sideline with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter. East botched the extra point giving the Bears a 7-6 edge.
Then, the Bears answered with a 13-play, 71-yard march that culminated with a touchdown run by Noah Brom. The cheering had barely stopped for the Bears’ fans when Anthony Roberson II had a 23-yard pick six at the 10:40 mark of the second quarter to put Palmer Ridge up 21-6.
“We got the job done and we can’t wait to go celebrate,” said Roberson II.
East caught a break when Evans mishandled a bad snap and it was recovered by the Eagles’ Buddy Almintakh at Palmer Ridge 18-yard line. That led to Andrada lofting a 17-yard TD pass to Medrano in right corner of end zone at 7:18 of second.
The Eagles kept rolling and moved the ball 46 yards concluding with Andrada’s one-yard scoring sneak at 3:51 of second quarter.
East scored again with some trickery. The play developed this way – Andrada tossed an 8-yard pass over the middle Kaden Bowman. Then, Bowman flipped it to Medrano, who was coming on a hook and ladder and Medrano sprinted the final 50 yards into the end zone to give East a 26-21 advantage with 2:08 until halftime.
As stagnant as the Bears’ offense was in the second quarter it came alive in its final possession. Palmer Ridge drove 89 yards on nine plays and Evans had a 5-yard scamper around the right corner with no time showing on the clock.
“Every single moment felt like a movie and you are just hoping that you weren’t the wrong side," Evans said. "We played as brothers and we played four quarters and that’s why we won.”