Class 3A football really has turned into a thing between Palmer Ridge and Pueblo East.
Want proof? While both teams will enter Saturday’s championship game, 1 p.m., at CSU-Pueblo’s Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl (very cool name) at 11-2, they also faced off earlier this season and have assured the mid-range, 11-man trophy will reside in either Monument with the newer Bears or in Pueblo with the traditional Eagles for a fifth consecutive season.
But there is much to learn, review and know about the two programs, some of which is detailed below for your viewing pleasure as yet another season will come to a close.
— The Eagles won the earlier meeting in the season, 28-21 at Don Breese Stadium, the one the Bears share with Lewis-Palmer. There were two rather interesting oddities. One was Palmer Ridge rushed for 171 yards and passed for 171 … and lost. The other was Pueblo East’s talented wide receiver, Kain Medrano, who’s headed to UCLA, was held to a season-low three receptions, or just as many interceptions he had against Bears quarterback Ty Evans (he’s headed to the University of Colorado). In all, Evans was picked off five times. Pueblo East’s Jason Herring nabbed the other two.
— Week 3’s loss set Palmer Ridge back at 1-2. It also dropped its opener, 27-12 to host Pine Creek of Colorado Springs as Evans also was picked off three times. Hey, it happens. But the Bears have ripped off 10 consecutive victories, outscoring an overwhelmed opposition by a combined 451-63 or an average of 45-6.
— Pueblo East began 3-2, dropping consecutive games from weeks 4-5 to Pueblo West and Discovery Canyon, respectively, and has won eight consecutive times, none by fewer than 14 points.
— Here’s a note that was fun to type as well as nostalgic – last decade, you may recognize a name that had a brief stint as head coach at Pueblo East. It’s former Broncos great and fan favorite Rick Upchurch, who also was on hand on Sunday at the Pittsburgh-Denver game and was acknowledged by the crowd.
— As the defending state champion, Palmer Ridge is 25-2 over two seasons. Pueblo East, going for its fourth title in five seasons, was 5-6 a year ago, but an aggregate 48-7 from 2014-16 and in 2018.
— And while the Eagles won three straight titles from 2014-16, they did so with three head coaches. In order, it was David Ramirez, Lee Meisner and Andy Watts. Watts remains in command. Tom Pulford is in his seventh season heading the Bears and has had winning records the previous five.
— Medrano has 59 receptions for 1,063 yards (18.0 average) and 18 TDs, and rushed for 239 yards and another TD, but he’s hardly the only Eagle with strong numbers. Senior QB Luc Andrada, also a youth teammate of Medrano – isn’t that the case for most Pueblans? – is 186-of-317 passing for 2,846 yards, 30 TDs and five interceptions. He also has rushed for 872 yards and 13 TDs. And fast? Andrada is the reigning 4A 100-meter champion and runner-up in the 200. And the team’s leading receiver statistically is junior Marvin London, who has 66 catches for 997 yards and seven TDs.
— Evans, who has been well-known on the national recruiting circuit, has certainly justified it through terrific numbers. He is 161-of-281 as a senior for 2,478 yards, 33 TDs and 14 picks. For his career, he has thrown for 9,266 yards, 106 TDs and 26 interceptions.
— Not much is stated about it, but Palmer Ridge can run the ball, too. Junior Raef Ruel has 1,159 yards rushing and 17 TDs. Evans has added 10 TDs on the ground. All told, the Bears have thrown for 34 TDs and rushed for 35. It’s called balance.
— Pueblo East, by the way, has thrown for 31 TDs and rushed for 32. So, yes, there’s something to it.
— The Bears’ top receiver is Anthony Roberson with 50 catches, 887 yards and 11 TDs.
— Defensively for the Eagles, Medrano has seven interceptions – who says defensive backs can’t catch? – junior Brandon Hall is credited with eight sacks, and senior Joe Padula owns 106 tackles, 12 for loss.
— For Palmer Ridge, sophomore Kaden Dudley has nine interceptions, senior Jacob Dillon has 16.5 sacks and senior Jaden Sparks has 125 tackles, 28 for loss.