PUEBLO — This was a different Pueblo East football team.
And Discovery Canyon knew that.
Perhaps the No. 7 Thunder truly realized this when Pueblo East's Kain Medrano returned a punt for a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter to help lead the Eagles to a convincing 42-0 win in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Dutch Clark Stadium on Saturday.
In a regular season matchup Sept. 20, the Thunder dominated 52-24. But that win came with an asterisk as Medrano, a wide receiver committed to UCLA, did not play because of a shoulder injury.
"There was one obvious difference," Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell said. "Having Kain back was huge."
Thanks to Discovery Canyon's double coverage, Medrano was somewhat limited on offense. Nonetheless, he played a key role — whether that was indirectly or not. He was, at times, a decoy as a wide receiver and a towering 6-foot-5, 205-pound presence on the defensive line that kept the Thunder (9-3) on their toes through a cold, gloomy afternoon with many of the hundreds of fans bundled up in blankets.
Still, they watched No. 2 Pueblo East jump to a 28-0 halftime lead.
The Eagles (10-2) scored on their first possession, thanks to a long rush by Medrano that set up a short TD run by quarterback Luc Andrada. Medrano followed that with his punt return for a score and a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Andrada then hit Joe Padula for a 17-yard TD. The quarterback followed that up with a 63-yard rushing score just before the end of the second period to give the Eagles a comfortable lead.
There was no stopping Pueblo East from there.
A short Thomas Wagner TD run gave the Eagles a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter, followed by a 28-yard TD toss from Andrada to Medrano. In the latter sequence, Andrada even dropped the ball after the snap before he picked it up only to find the star receiver in the end zone.
Officials issued a running clock midway through the third quarter.
The Eagles will face No. 3 Erie (12-0) in the semifinals next week.