Palmer Ridge Bears (21) Pueblo East Eagles (28)

Pueblo East's Kain Medrano grabs the interception from a Palmer Ridge pass during Pueblo East’s 28-21 win Sept. 6 against the Bears.

It appears to be a big no-no in sports  basketball, football, baseball, even curling  to admit that a singular figure can make all the difference.
 
LeBron James is an exception to this argument.
 
And, perhaps, so is Pueblo East's Kain Medrano, a wide receiver/defensive back committed to UCLA. He's undoubtedly a central figure in Palmer Ridge football's preparation of Saturday's Class 3A title game at CSU-Pueblo. Of course we all have to be careful about saying one high school athlete could be this influential since coaches stress unity and team chemistry.
 
But I've seen two Pueblo East games this season.
 
One with Medrano in it, one without him. And let me tell you: His presence and absence is noticeable.
 
The first time was Sept. 14, when Discovery Canyon manhandled Pueblo East 52-24. On Nov. 17, Pueblo East got revenged with an easy 42-0 win over the Thunder in the 3A quarterfinals in Pueblo that featured a running clock during much of the second half.
 
Medrano was restricted to the Eagles' sideline in the first contest, thanks to an injured shoulder. Pueblo East still showed signs of a talented team, with Lucas Andrada throwing a pair of TDS to cut the deficit to 31-12 at halftime.
 
Nonetheless, the Thunder used D-20 Stadium as their own personal playground  throwing as much as they wanted, running as much as they wanted and keeping the Pueblo East offense in check except for a couple meaningless late scores.
 
The Thunder seemed reluctant to say Medrano's absence was a game-changer.
 
"We can't prepare for just one person, we have to prepare for the whole team," quarterback Zack Anderson shortly after guiding the Thunder to a 5-0 start.
 
But it was a different story just a couple weeks ago.
 
Medrano played wide receiver, defensive back and decoy. It didn't matter much that he was limited on offense, thanks to Discovery Canyon applying double coverage on him.
 
He still excelled in other ways.
 
He returned a punt for a 62-yard TD run in the first quarter. He caught three passes for 54 yards and a late score. But his 6-foot-5, 205-pound presence kept the Thunder on their toes.
 
This allowed Pueblo East's other stars, particularly Andrada (two passing TDs, two rushing TDs), to shine.
 
This time, the Thunder couldn't help but state the obvious.
 
"There was one obvious difference," Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell said. "Having Kain back was huge."
 
In other words, keep an eye on Pueblo East's No. 5.
 
Whether he touches the ball or not, he's going to make a difference.

Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.

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