ERIE — When a defensive unit makes a goal-line stand in football, the jubilation typically is short-lived. That's because the offense has the equally difficult task of creeping out of its own end zone.
If you're that team, you take the good with the bad — and the Erie Tigers did their best early in Saturday's game of turning that exact situation into the game-altering sequence of their Class 3A semifinal contest against Longmont.
It happened before halftime, but Erie's stop of the Trojans turned into a 99-yard drive the other way and a lead the Tigers would never come close to surrendering in a 31-14 victory at Tiger Stadium.
For the first time since they moved to Class 3A, Erie football is in the state championship game as a result of the dominant team performance in front of a packed house representing both teams.
"It hasn't fully hit me yet," junior Noah Roper said. "It's amazing and it's been this team's goal and my goal since I was little. I am just so excited."
"Our game plan was pretty much, we had been running it down their throats and they can't stop us, so why stop now? We're going to keep on doing it because our line is good enough to do it, and everyone was on board."
Jacob Mansdorfer and Roper each scored twice, but it was Roper's 254 yards and a 13-play drive in the third quarter that kept the Tigers in firm control against an LHS defense that was well-respected by Erie head coach Chad Cooper and his staff.
"Absolutely today was all just about grinding this one out and running the ball with Noah Roper," Cooper said after the game, which vaults Erie into a matchup against No. 2 seeded Palmer Ridge next Saturday at Don Breese Stadium. "Jacob Mansdorfer was that other guy for us just moving the sticks and keeping it away from their talented offense.
"We kept it away from their offense, but our defense executing and stopping their sweeps were huge."
After playing several close games over the past five weeks, Erie responded in every way to an early Longmont lead and scored all 31 of their points in a row before allowing a late Trojans score with a minute left.
With Erie ahead 10-6 and still plenty of time to go before the teams went for a break, Longmont (9-4) appeared ready to power its way into the end zone after driving from its own 20. The Trojans had converted a fourth down on the drive to get inside the EHS 10, but a holding call played big into eventually setting up a 4th-down and goal from the 3.
Drake Engelking, who had 12 carries for 51 yards, was met at the 1 and brought down by Mansdorfer for the turnover on downs. After Erie took over, Roper's 41-yard run on third down got his team out of trouble, and Mansdorfer would end that drive with a 3-yard score to make it 17-6.
"Our defense is so much better than we have been playing at times this season, and we have some stars on defense," Roper said. "When we got down there, I just told them all, 'we got this, there's no reason why we shouldn't get this.' They buckled up and did the work and made the big play."
The Tigers were utterly dominant from that point on. Erie took 7 minutes and 41 seconds off the clock to start the third quarter, capping the drive with an 8-yard run from Roper — who now has 2,537 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns.
After having success on deep passes earlier in the game, Roper intercepted an Oakley Dehning pass near the goal line on the next possession, and the junior made it 31-6 cushion with a 1-yard score just a short time later to forge an insurmountable edge.
The result of a win may not have surprised many considering the No. 5 seed for EHS, but the fashion of winning big — finally — may have raised some eyebrows.
"It felt good because after their first drive we really figured things out and just worked as a team," said Nathan Hackney, who saw a lot of snaps playing both ways against a big Longmont front. "We had a couple close games these past two, and it gets scary at the end of those, but we just put it all together this week. Pretty darn close to perfect."
Erie last made a title game in 2008 while in 2A and will be facing a Palmer Ridge squad that improved to 13-0 with a semifinal win over Palisade. A time for the game has not been set.
Erie 31, Longmont 14
At Erie HSLongmont (9-4)6008—14Erie (11-2)10777—31
Longmont — Oakley Dehning 1 run (kick failed). Erie — Julian Custine 24 field goal. Erie — Jacob Mansdorfer 7 run (Custine kick).
Erie — Mansdorfer 3 run (Custine kick).
Erie — Noah Roper 8 run (Custine kick).
Erie — Roper 1 run (Custine kick). Longmont — Jaydon Elkins 21 pass from Dehning (Engelking run).
RUSHING — Longmont: Drake Engelking 12-51, Oakley Dehning 10-12, Cruz Garcia 6-22, Jaydon Elkins 1-0. Erie: Noah Roper 32-254, Jacob Mansdorfer 15-59, Colby Wingfield 3-12, Dion Lucero 3-17.
PASSING — Longmont: Dehning 14-21-2-230. Erie: Lucero 2-2-0-48.
RECEIVING — Longmont: Elkins 4-64, Garcia 2-55, Engelking 3-17, Sage Yazzie 2-22, Danny Nichols 2-48, Beck Fieth 2-24. Erie: Alex Mathis 1-31, Zach Rees 1-17.