The nail-biting way in which the quarterfinal games in Classes 4A and 3A played out on Saturday made it one of the most exciting single days of playoff football ever in the BoCoPreps.com area.
In 3A, Longmont upset top-seeded Mead with a defensive stop in the end zone on the final play of the game. Also in 3A, Erie put together a late comeback, which included the Tigers converting a fourth-and-14, to beat Durango on the road. In 4A, 15th-seeded Broomfield upset Loveland by one point in overtime, dealing the Indians just their second loss in their last 22 games.
This Saturday has a lot of live up to, but it has at least a fighting chance to recreate the drama.
With two local teams having earned the honor of practicing over Thanksgiving break just 25 miles from one another, eighth-seeded Longmont (9-3) and fifth-seeded Erie (10-2) will clash with one another at Erie High School starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the greater honor of playing in the Class 3A state championship game.
"We had last-second finishes all over the place so it was a great week of football in our area," Erie head coach Chad Cooper said. "We're just sticking to the old playoff mantra of survive and advance. We were able to do that in Durango and Longmont was able to make enough plays to do the same thing against Mead at the end there. We're just trying to refocus after our big win last week and turning out attention to figuring out how to beat a very talented Longmont team."
Facing the challenge of having to refocus after an emotionally-taxing win, the Tigers have gained plenty of experience in that realm already this postseason. Prior to their riveting quarterfinals victory, the Tigers took a 22-21 lead with 52 seconds left and held off three-time defending champion Pueblo East to advance out of the first round.
While he has no intention of holding back junior Noah Roper, who leads the state with 2,282 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns, Cooper said the Tigers will need to be more balanced on offense against Longmont. That will be the Tigers' approach against an opportunistic Trojans defense, led by linebacker Austin Hassler and his 120 tackles, that has forced 37 turnovers (21 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries) on the season.
In the 4A semifinals, the underdog Broomfield Eagles (8-4) will also be looking to ride a wave of emotion after their overtime win in the quarterfinals. If they can defeat sixth-seeded Pueblo South (11-1) on the road Saturday, the Eagles will make their second consecutive appearance in the state championship game. Last year, the Eagles lost 36-14 to Pine Creek, which is the top seed in this year's tournament.
Even with a tough task ahead of the 15th seed, head coach Blair Hubbard believes his team is battle tested and up for the challenge of trying to upset yet another top-seven seed.
"I think the thing that works in our favor is that we've been playing playoff teams since Week 7 after we lost to Loveland in Week 6," Hubbard said. "I think it's been to our benefit that we've had our backs against the wall and we've been playing in playoff atmospheres the past six weeks or so."
The Eagles' game against Pueblo South will begin at 1 p.m. at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo.
State semifinals schedule
(4) Pueblo West (11-1) at (1) Pine Creek (11-1), at District 20 Stadium, Saturday, 1 p.m.
(15) Broomfield (8-4) at (6) Pueblo South (11-1), at Dutch Clark Stadium, Saturday, 1 p.m.
(8) Longmont (9-3) at (5) Erie (10-2), at Erie H.S., Saturday, 1 p.m.
(6) Palisade (10-2) at (2) Palmer Ridge (12-0), Saturday, 1 p.m.