Predictable bracket, this feisty Colorado mid-range group has. Class 3A touches every corner and just about every area of the state, and now its early postseason rounds have gone according to plan nearly to the letter.
Top-seeded Palisade, Pueblo East (2), Erie (3) and defending champion Palmer Ridge (4) are here for Saturday’s semifinals. And of the 12 games through two rounds in the 16-team bracket, there has been only one outcome – (9) Mead over (8) Evergreen 56-13 in the preliminaries – in which the better seed fell.
Plus, keep in mind references of familiarity and talent. Three of the current final four were here a year ago and Erie’s Noah Roper (out for the rest of the postseason with a leg injury), Palmer Ridge’s Ty Evans and Pueblo East’s Kain Medrano are top-of-the-class players who would do likewise among 5A’s bigger, faster and stronger boys.
Herewith, a deeper look at the two matchups that include possibilities of another finals meeting of Erie-Palmer Ridge, ever-present Pueblo East going for a fourth title in five seasons and a Pueblo East-Palmer Ridge rematch from Week 3 to keep the crown between the two schools over six years:
(4) Palmer Ridge (10-2) vs. (1) Palisade (11-1), Saturday, 1 p.m., Stocker Stadium, Grand Junction
The only meeting between the two programs was in the past season’s semifinals, won 28-14 by Palmer Ridge. … The visiting Bears began 2018 quite ugly, Evans included. They lost 27-12 at 4A Pine Creek and Evans was picked off three times. Their only other setback was by 28-21 to Pueblo East in Week 3, when Evans was guilty of five interceptions. … To date this season, Evans (6-3, 190) has 33 TD tosses and 13 interceptions, 106 and 25, respectively, in his decorated career. He has committed to the University of Colorado. … Evans has proven Democratic – 10 Bears have caught a scoring pass, topped by the 11 snagged by junior Anthony Roberson, who has 46 receptions for 845 yards (18.4 average). And more Evans influence – of the 14 Palmer Ridge players who have caught a pass, a dozen average in double-figure yards and the team average per catch is 14.8 yards. … Palmer Ridge’s top rushing option is Raef Ruel, a junior who compiled 1,037 yards and 14 TDs. … Palisade enters on an eight-game winning streak. The Bulldogs’ lone loss came in Week 4, at 4A Montrose by 21-17. … Their winning roll began in Week 5, when at home they slipped past Evergreen 27-21. A half-dozen blowouts preceded last week’s 27-21 home victory over Mead. … Head coach Joe Ramunno, who also led the great Bulldogs title teams of the mid-to-late-1990s, has always enjoyed running the football, and this season is no exception. Palisade has had 572 rushes for 3,989 yards (7.0 average), 12 100-yard games for individual rushers and 48 TDs. Conversely, the Bulldogs have attempted just 43 passes. … Their top ground-gainer is junior QB Cam Tucker (6-0, 210), who has gone for 1,638 yards and 27 TDs. He also is 25-of-41 passing for 530 yards, six TDs and four picks. … Senior Jason Bruce is next at 834 yards and eight TDs.
(3) Erie (12-0) vs. (2) Pueblo East (10-2), Saturday, 1 p.m., Dutch Clark Stadium, Pueblo
Indeed, the Tigers’ Roper went down in the third quarter in last week’s quarterfinals to Green Mountain, possibly when a defender rolled over one of his legs. In what would be a 34-0 victory, Erie cruised 34-0 and its administration has only allowed that it’s a leg injury. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior had compiled 2,229 yards, 10.1 per carry, and 37 touchdowns in 2018, a grand total of 6,339 yards and 83 scores for his career. He had 2,631 yards and 36 TDs last season. Erie’s pain and frustration is real, but he’s not returning. … The Tigers stand second in 3A scoring (512 points) and first in points permitted (112). … Ten of Erie’s 12 victories have been by at least 27 points. The Tigers also won 41-24 at Mead and ended the regular season with a 31-28 decision at Fort Morgan. … Through two postseason games, Erie owns a 74-0 scoring edge. … Not surprisingly, Erie’s No. 2 rusher, Tyler Gardner, has 325 yards, followed by juniors Gavin Mendoza (239) and Cameron Crooks (202). … Meanwhile, the Eagles probably reside in what could be called the last, great high-school sports town in Colorado. And they definitely have thrived. Other than last year’s 5-6 effort, Pueblo East has been 47-7 in recent championship seasons. … The Eagles don’t see much of the Tigers, but this is the third consecutive season meeting. A year ago, Pueblo East lost a 22-21 squeaker in the first round of the playoffs and in 2016 knocked the Tigers out of the playoffs with a 27-15 victory in the preliminaries. … Medrano (6-4, 205), a WR-FS, has committed to UCLA. In 2018, he has 52 catches for 955 yards (an 18.7 average) for 17 TDs. … Senior QB Luc Andrada is 169-of-285 for 2,812 yards, 29 TDs and just three interceptions. He also has rushed for 744 yards and 11 TDs. … Junior Marvin London actually tops Pueblo East in receptions (62) and yardage (962), so the Eagles’ skill set is complete and demands attention in multiple areas.