High flying. Mach speed. Flash and dash.
Perhaps it’s fitting that all of these descriptors apply to Palmer Ridge and Erie high schools ahead of the Class 3A state football championship to be held Saturday at Air Force Falcon Stadium. (Yeah, that’s pretty cool.)
The matchup was a somewhat improbable one, depending on who you asked, at the beginning of the season. But the Tigers and Bears — oh, my — made the march to the title game nevertheless.
And what a matchup it is. The two teams have combined for 24 wins, 1,024 points, and more than 9,600 yards on the season.
It pits the state’s leading passer, Palmer Ridge QB Ty Evans, against the state’s leading rusher, Erie back Noah Roper. Both are among the class of their positions, regardless of division. Both are just juniors. Both are looking to be the star of the story that will be told among family, friends, alumni, and classmates for decades to come.
Palmer Ridge has never won a state championship in the sport of football, nor has it ever even made it to the title game. Erie has made it to the big show before — it was the 1997 1A champion and the 2A runner-up in 2008.
This game signifies an important chapter in the still evolving legacies of these two young schools — the new Erie High School was established 12 years ago in 2005, while Palmer Ridge is still wearing off the new polish on the floor from its opening in 2008. Yet both were able to navigate the 3A field with the precision of an established powerhouse.
The time for hype is drawing to a close. It’s time to play some football. It’s time to decide who will be crowned the Class 3A state champion. Here’s how the 2017 title game shakes out.
No. 6 Erie High School (11-2) at No. 2 Palmer Ridge High School (13-0)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Falcon Stadium, U.S. Air Force Academy
Entrance: Through North Gate, open at 11 a.m.
About The Tigers
Designated as the away team, the Erie Tigers have no problem taking their act on the road into a stadium where many legends and heroes have dug into the turf. The Tigers have played in front of one of the more raucous crowds in 3A all season long, and they’ve certainly delighted.
Noah Roper leads the charge as one of the best backs in the state. Just how good has he been? Well, he scored the game-winning extra point in the first round against Pueblo East. He scored the game winning touchdown in the quarterfinals against Durango. And in last week’s semifinals against Longmont, he ran for 255 yards, scored two times, and even snagged an interception.
In fact, the 200-yard mark has become the new norm for Roper and his road-grating offensive line — the junior back has gone for 200-plus in each of his last five games, including in all three playoff games. He’s scored 34 touchdowns on the year. He’s ran for 2,537 yards. He’s … good.
Defensively, Roper is a force to be reckoned with from the secondary, while Nathan Hackney leads a stout defensive front which has racked up 33.5 sacks.
The fact that Erie didn’t even win its own Tri-Valley League is a testament to not only the strength of that conference, but also the perseverance of the Tigers. It’s not every day (or every season) that the No. 6 seed makes a run like this to the title game. But don’t expect the clock to strike midnight before Saturday.
About The Bears
What a way to make your state title debut. Palmer Ridge will be the host team for the 3A title game, and as such it was its responsibility to determine the game’s site. With the Bears’ home stadium, Monument’s Don Breese, being too small by CHSAA standards (max capacity is 2,500-ish), it was decided that the game would be moved slightly down the way to the home of the Falcons.
Led by junior Ty Evans, the No. 1 quarterback in Class 3A, and perhaps even the entire state, Palmer Ridge is in good hands. Evans, who recently decommitted from Division I Arkansas because of a coaching shakeup, is seeking his first state title in his second year as the starter. His passing totals are video game-esque — 201 for 326 (61 percent), 3,318 yards, 39 touchdowns in just 13 games.
Despite missing part of the second quarter during last week’s semifinal game, Evans was able to help guide the Bears to their first ever championship appearance.
And although it’s the Division I prospect who has garnered much of the attention this season, the supporting cast deserves a credit roll of its own.
In fact, it was sophomore running back Raef Ruel who took his turn in the spotlight with a 169-yard, three-touchdown performance against Palisade in the semis.
Not to mention, this is a defense which has given up a mere 110 points in 13 games combined this season — with last week’s 14-point triumph becoming the closest margin of victory to date.
Despite spending a majority of the season at No. 2, Palmer Ridge has proven to be the juggernaut of Class 3A. Making a push for its first ever football state title in a stadium built for the big stage seems fitting for this flashy, fierce, forceful dynasty in the making.