LONGMONT — Though the schools are separated by more than 150 miles, Longmont and Pueblo East have established an interesting early-season rivalry as two of Colorado's top football programs from half a state away.
For the fifth straight season, the Longmont Trojans, who are ranked No. 9 in Class 4A after moving back up this fall, will open their schedule against Pueblo East, which is currently ranked third in 3A. That game will kick off at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo and, as always, promises to be a good one.
After sitting through a Week 1 bye and watching most of Colorado play football last week, the Trojans are ready for their annual shot at their distant rival.
"It's the best," Longmont quarterback Oakley Dehning said. "I remember following that game back when I was in eighth grade. Clint Sigg was the quarterback and the Trojans went down there and got beat. Then they came up here and we beat them. It's kind of gone like that. It's a long bus ride and the home team has kind of dominated the series but we're hoping to change that this year.
"Pueblo East, they always come ready to hit and play physical. That's who they are and we'll have to match that."
The Trojans and Eagles have traded wins and split their last four meetings, with Longmont winning last year's game 31-6. Neither team has won on the road nor have any of the games been particularly close, giving the home team a clear advantage every year.
While Thursday's affair will be Longmont's first game in 2018, it won't be Pueblo East's. In their season opener, the Eagles handled Roosevelt, 47-8, despite the Roughriders entering as the No. 6 3A team in the CHSAANow.com poll.
Dehning said the Trojans are smarter and faster than they were last year, but that Pueblo East will likely be the bigger team. The Trojans will also have their hands full with Eagles quarterback Luc Andrada, who is back for his senior season after accounting for 2,066 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns last season. Andrada also ran a won the 4A 100-meter dash state title with a time of 10.6 seconds in the spring. The Eagles also return wide receiver and safety Kain Medrano, who is committed to UCLA.
"We're excited to play them again," Trojans head coach Doug Johnson said. "They are perennially one of the best teams in the state. I have a lot of respect for them. Playing them first, we get a pretty good amount of feedback about how good we're going to be right from the get-go. We're expecting that again this season. We went down and watched them last week and they looked good. We're always impressed with not just who they have and what they do, but how they do things down there."
In last year's 3A state playoffs, Longmont reached the semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up Erie. Pueblo East also lost to Erie, but by one point in the first round.
The Trojans return a veteran group on the offensive side of the ball led by Dehning, running backs Drake Engelking and Cruz Garcia, and wide receivers Jaydon Elkins and Sage Yazzi. How they will fill in after graduating a ton of talent on the defensive side remains a question.