PARKER – In a span of less than three minutes Saturday afternoon, Pine Creek’s football team all but put its Class 4A quarterfinal game away.
The Eagles broke open a scoreless game with three touchdowns in two minutes and 38 seconds. A David Moore III touchdown run was followed by back-to-back interceptions that were returned for scores, sparking a 55-17 victory for the top-seeded Eagles over No. 9 Ponderosa at EchoPark Stadium.
“It was a good team effort by the defense,” said Eagles junior safety Beau Freyler, who had the first pick-six. “We did our jobs and made big plays when it counted.”
The victory moves Pine Creek (11-1) into the 4A state semifinals, where the Eagles will host No. 5 Pueblo West next weekend. It also helped erase some of the sting of the 2018 quarterfinals, when Pine Creek was the No. 1 seed but was upset by the No. 9 team in Skyline.
“It’s been a tradition to go throughout the playoffs at Pine Creek,” Eagles quarterback Gavin Herberg said. “We came into this game with a lot of anger due to last year. There was a lot of resemblance (to) last year, so we just wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.”
Moore rushed for 183 yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns, and Herberg passed for 95 yards and rushed for 46 more and a touchdown.
Ponderosa (8-4) came into the game riding a wave of defensive momentum, and the Mustangs maintained that by forcing Pine Creek to punt on its first two possessions. Ponderosa couldn’t get its own offense in sync though, and on the Eagles’ third possession, Herberg loosened the Mustangs’ defense up with a 33-yard completion to Nate Vasquez. Two plays later Moore broke off a 44-yard touchdown run, juking a handful of defenders along the way.
“It was just little adjustment we made to their defense,” Herberg said. “Luckily it worked out. We just kept doing that throughout the game.”
Ponderosa got the ball back, but three plays later Freyler intercepted Jack Hanenburg and returned the ball 34 yards for a touchdown.
“I just made a play on the ball,” Freyler said.
Four plays later it was Gavin Whetzal’s turn, as the sophomore intercepted a Hanenburg pass and ran it in from 37 yards out. Pine Creek added three points late in the quarter on a 37-yard field goal from Luke Wieland.
Wieland added a 35-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and Ponderosa lost Hanenburg to an injury on the first play of the next drive. After a long drive led by sophomore backup Karter Johnson stalled, a 42-yard Moore run set up a 15-yard Herberg touchdown run.
Ponderosa’s Cael Porter and Moore traded touchdowns just before the half. Moore scored his third touchdown early in the third quarter, and Pine Creek’s Eddie Kyle returned a blocked field goal 92 yards for the team’s final points.
Louie Casados added a late touchdown run for the Mustangs. Johnson threw for 101 yards but was intercepted by Freyler early in the third quarter to set up Moore’s third touchdown run. Porter rushed for 98 yards on 13 carries and the one score.
Pine Creek defeated Pueblo West 41-13 back on Sept. 27, but the players know that game doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The Cyclones (11-1) have won seven in a row since that meeting, including a 31-19 victory in Montrose on Saturday.
In 2017 the Eagles met the Cyclones in the semifinals as well, emerging with a 28-0 victory before falling to Pueblo South in the title game.
So what is the key this time around?
“Not getting overconfident because we beat them last time,” Herberg said. “The same thing happened two years ago. We ended up winning, but we can’t think about it. We take it one game at a time, and they’re a new team, so we’ve got to prepare for them.”
“I’m excited for next week,” Freyler added. “We’ve just to put the work in this week in practice and we’ll be good.”