Palmer Ridge running back Raef Ruel runs the ball for extra yards as the team took on Pueblo East in the CHSAA 3A Football Championships at the Neta & Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl at CSU-Pueblo on Saturday December 1, 2018 in Pueblo. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

PUEBLO • The repeat wasn’t a complete repeat.

Palmer Ridge’s football team roared, once again, to the 3A title, but this run to the title included battling with humiliation. This run required a team to get back on its feet after falling down. This run required a quarterback to delve deeply into the teachings of a mumbling philosopher known as Rocky.

The Bears survived an imaginative, explosive version of Pueblo East at CSU-Pueblo’s Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl on Saturday to win their second straight title. They were pressed early, but prevailed late. The victory summed up a season.

“We had two pretty bad games,” said receiver Anthony Roberson II. “It’s tough to lose early but we’d rather lose early than lose late.”

In 2017, Palmer Ridge rampaged to the title without a blemish. The Bears finished 14-0 and won 10 games by 25 points or more. They seldom broke a sweat while devouring everybody.

Coach Tom Pulford made a courageous move to start 2018. He scheduled 4A power Pine Creek, and the Bears were the ones who got devoured.

Quarterback Ty Evans struggled. The entire team struggled.

Then, on Sept. 7, Palmer Ridge and Pueblo East met for the first time this season, and everything fell apart for Evans. He threw five interceptions and doomed his team to defeat. The defending champs were bumbling along with two losses and one win.

During the hours leading up to his birth, Ty’s mother, Jennifer, watched the first “Rocky”, the story of a boxer blessed with unconquerable will along with a rare ability to thrive even after getting smacked in the face 28 straight times.

As you might expect, Ty adores the Rocky movies, which all follow the same theme.

“Life is not about how hard you can hit,” Evans said Saturday. “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. I kept remembering that all season. It’s what happens after you get knocked down that’s important.”

Evans idolizes Brett Favre, the NFL’s ultimate carefree gunslinger. But after the Pueblo East loss, the young quarterback embraced a stronger sense of caution and wisdom on the field.

He toned down his gun slinging and turned up his game managing, and the Bears won 11 straight games.

“I wanted to play smart and do what my team needed,” Evans said of his relatively restrained approach to Saturday’s rematch. “If you keep chopping away, they will fall.”

On Thanksgiving Day, Evans saw the latest installment of the Rocky series, “Creed 2”. In the movie, Adonis Creed first struggles against Ukrainian behemoth Viktor Drago. The struggle lays waste to Creed’s self-image.

The defeat reminded Evans of his own defeat to Pueblo East, the one that left him questioning his talent.

“Am I the player I think I am?” Evans remembered asking himself during the days after the East defeat. “I had to go back to the drawing board, had to go back to the basics.”

If you know anything about Rocky movies, you know what happens to Creed.

He listens to Rocky’s advice, digs deep into his soul and, of course, triumphs over his weaknesses.

In the dying light of a windy, frigid Saturday, Evans stood in the center of a jubilant Palmer Ridge party, his throwing arm wrapped around the 3A trophy.

It’s one thing to watch one of those Rocky movies. It’s vastly different – and vastly better – to live your own version.

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