PUEBLO • This game had the suspense of a superhero movie.
And just when things looked certain for one side, Palmer Ridge made sure the ending went its way.
That happened in the third quarter, when the No. 4 Bears exploded for three straight touchdowns en route a dramatic 47-38 win Saturday afternoon over No. 2 Pueblo East in the Class 3A state championship game at Neta and Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl Stadium.
It gave Palmer Ridge back-to-back state titles.
”Every single moment felt like a movie,” Bears quarterback Ty Evans said. “You were just hoping you weren’t on the wrong side.”
And the University of Colorado-bound senior quarterback did perhaps one of the most dramatic things: He played with a torn MCL.
Evans told The Gazette’s Lindsey Smith before the title game that he injured his left knee during the Bears’ 42-0 win over Discovery Canyon in the regular-season finale. He said he kept his status a secret because he didn’t want to let his teammates down and feared opponents would take advantage of the situation with a dirty play.
Despite his risky decision, he led Palmer Ridge (12-2) to blowout win after blowout win in the playoffs — including a 42-7 triumph over top-seeded Palisade in the semifinals.
“It was an easy decision to keep playing,” Evans said. “Nothing was going to stop me from going out there and leading my team.”
His stats proved this importance. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions to go along with a 7-yard TD run. That rushing score took place just before the first half, when things were looking good for Pueblo East (11-3).
The Eagles took a 26-21 lead late in the second quarter, thanks to Luc Andrada (17 for 36, 278 yards, two interceptions). The quarterback ran in a score and threw for two more in the first half, including a 44-yard, hook-and-ladder play that ended with UCLA-bound Kain Medrano’s second TD.
But the Bears weren’t done.
With about a minute left in the half, Evans engineered a 90-yard drive with five completed passes before he ran in a 7-yard score. But the Bears came up short on a two-point conversion attempt and settled for a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Also in the first half, junior Raef Ruel (25 carries, 132 yards) had touchdown runs of 29 and 4 and junior Deuce Roberson returned an interception for a 23-yard score.
“When adversity hits and things happen to us that we don’t really want, we just come together as brothers,” Roberson said. “When you don’t come together, you’re going to fall down with it.”
And it looked that way early in the second half.
In the first minute, Pueblo East executed another trick play. This time, the ball was handed off to Marvin London, who tossed it to Patrick Gonzales around midfield to complete a 78-yard play. Palmer Ridge argued that the pass was beyond the line of scrimmage but without success.
Then, the game shifted for the Bears. First, Ruel rushed for his third TD before senior Aidan Cullen returned an interception for 22 yards and Noah Brom marched in for a 4-yard TD. The last score gave the Bears a 47-32 lead.
“Those were big-game changing plays for us,” Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said about the two pick-6s.
In a game that attracted thousands of fans, the Bears got on board first with Ruel’s first TD on their first possession. But Pueblo East responded with 3:18 left in the first, when Andrada found Medrano for a 9-yard TD pass.
The Bears blocked the PAT kick to stay ahead early in the championship game.
The two teams met earlier this year, and Pueblo East won 28-21.
Saturday’s game was filled with heroes and plenty of back-and-forth moments. But in the end, Palmer Ridge celebrated being on the winning side for the second consecutive season.