3A FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS PREVIEW

Call it revenge. Redemption. Revival. Fate. Perseverance.
Whatever you call it, call it a trip to the Class 3A football semifinals for Longmont High School.
Perhaps the most improbable team to crack the final four – if only because it’s the only one to have had a losing record at some point this season – eighth-seeded Longmont appears to be the Cinderella story crashing this ball.
The Trojans, who dropped three straight during an early stretch and wobbled out to a 1-3 start to this season, avenged one of those losses to No. 1 and previously unbeaten (and previously dominant) Mead 30-26 last week to set up a trip to the semis.
There, Doug Johnson’s squad will face No. 5 Erie, the lone remaining representative of the Tri-Valley League which edged No. 13 Durango last weekend.
Both Longmont and Erie endured heart-racing finishes a week ago to get to this stage; the Trojans scored the game winner on a Drake Engelking run with 16 seconds left to knock off the Mavericks, while the Tigers erased a one-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining to earn a second straight victory after scoring a game-winning touchdown in the game’s waning moments.
On the other side of the bracket is the lone unbeaten team remaining, No. 2 Palmer Ridge, up against another surprise party crasher – that is, to everyone outside of the Western Slope – in No. 6 Palisade.
Whatever you choose to call this week of games, which will send two completely new teams to the title game for the first time in four years, don’t call it boring. Here’s how the 3A state semifinal pairings shake out.
 
No. 8 Longmont (9-3) at No. 5 Erie (10-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Erie High School
 
About The Tigers: Erie has been as clutch as any team in this tournament over its first two games, knocking off three-time defending champion Pueblo East in the first round by way of a game-winning two point conversion, before taking down Durango on another late score. The hero, if ever there was one, in both games had to be Noah Roper, arguably the best back in the state as only a junior. Roper scurried for 209 yards and four scores against the Demons after going for 207 against Pueblo East, marking the fourth straight game in which he’s reached the two-century mark and eighth game overall this season. This is the first trip to the semis for Erie since the 2008 season, when it reached the Class 2A title game. Perennial contenders separated by some 15-miles, these two teams have yet to meet on the gridiron…until now.
About The Trojans: The key to Longmont’s turnaround has to be its consistent defense. During their current eight-game win streak, the Trojans have yet to concede more than 29 points, and the defense has come away with at least one interception in the past six wins. Austin Hassler, the leading tackler (120) has five picks of his own on the year. And though the Longmont front seven might be called upon more often than the secondary when trying to stop Erie and Roper, he is no stranger to catching passes out of the backfield. This is the Trojans’ first trip to the semis since moving down to Class 3A in 2016, though they did reach the 4A semifinals in 2015 and made the title game in 2014.
 
No. 6 Palisade (10-2) at No. 2 Palmer Ridge (12-0)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Don Breese Stadium
 
About The Bears: Palmer Ridge might be the most underrated 12-0 team in the history of prep football. But the Bears have been making their presence known – and felt – around the state all year. It’s hard to hide from Ty Evans’ arm now, even though most defenses would have liked to. The Bears haven’t been touched virtually all season – their closes margin of victory was 21 points – and the defense still hasn’t conceded 100 points combined through 12 games. Last week, Palmer Ridge easily won the battle of run vs. pass against Rifle, and it’s scary to consider that Evans only passed for 185 yards and two scores in a 49-7 win. This is Palmer Ridge’s first ever trip to the state football semifinals.
About The Bulldogs: Palisade is the other wild card here in the mix, reeling off eight straight after suffering two non-conference losses early in the season. The Bulldogs, paced by Tarrence Williams (184 yards) and Cameron Tucker (82 yards, two TDs) focused as always on the rushing game to knock off No. 3 Roosevelt 17-14 a week ago. This is another classic clash of styles, as the Bulldogs average 340 yards rushing per game (compared to 71.8 passing), while the Bears rack up nearly 277 yards through the air per contest (compared to 144 rushing). It will be up to that potent running attack to control the clock – and more importantly, the scoreboard – in order to knock off the Monument-al juggernaut. Palisade reached the semis in 2011.
 
NOTE:  Both games are scheduled to be available through a live video stream at www.nfhsnetwork.com.  

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