LONGMONT — Both the Erie and Mead football teams had their September 28 matchup circled in red, no doubt the preseason game the Tigers and Mavericks were most looking forward to.
On Friday night at Mavericks Stadium, Erie's Noah Roper seemed to be running with red in his eyes, mindful of the Tigers needing to overcome a five-game losing streak in the series in order to remain perfect in 2018.
He was a runner possessed, and with his dutiful effort of 304 yards and four touchdowns he and his teammates accomplished what they had set out to do in a 41-24 nonleague road victory that bumped them to 5-0.
Mead threw out all the stops at Erie, gaining the first possession of the game on a squib kick and feeding the Tigers defense a steady dose of misdirection plays, but Erie's 27-10 halftime lead was too much to overcome and the Mavericks dropped to 2-3.
"When the schedule comes out there are games you circle, and obviously with what coach (Jason) Klatt has done over at Mead, this was a game we just had to get past," Erie head coach Chad Cooper said after the game, which saw his Tigers produce 434 yards of offense. "Last year, it was close and we ended up falling at the end, this is one we definitely wanted to win. I loved our effort, our execution wasn't great at times, but we scored 41 points and held an excellent team to 24. I'm proud of how the kids fought."
Both teams were coming off wins, but Mead had a bye week last week and therefore had two weeks to prepare for the Erie attack. Ask anyone, though, about stopping Roper even when you stop him, and they'll tell you it takes an army.
Roper actually only broke through for seven big runs — his 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter being one that will fill highlight reels all over the state soon enough. But among his 32 carries were several totes in which he had Mead tacklers on his back, churning his legs to no end.
The Erie offensive line also gave Roper, and others, the chance to find holes and reach the second level often. Jaymeson Nelms, a tight end who also caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter, was part of a blocking scheme that could only be described as workmanlike.
"Our coaches were shooting big for this game since they had beaten us the last two years," Nelms said. "I know it was our plan to just do our job the entire game, and we worked hard. We just try and do everything we can for Noah, because we know if we do our thing then he'll do his."
Mead's only lead of the game came at 7-0 as they took that opening possession the short 45 yards and scored the game's first points on a Ryan Bullock 2-yard run. That was already more first-half points than Erie had given up all season through four games.
The lead would be short-lived. Erie scored on all four of its first-half possessions, marching on short drives of 55 and 45 yards to take a 14-7 lead and then going 65 yards to make it 21-10. That drive, capped by the Nelms TD catch, was in response to the Erie defense stopping Mead in a first-and-goal situation and forcing a field goal.
"We missed some opportunities and that certainly was one of them ... you'd love to come away with seven there when it's close," Mead coach Jason Klatt said. "But Erie blocks well, they tackle well and they get off the ball. You have to be fully disciplined when you play a team like that."
Erie seemingly put the nail in the coffin with Roper's long third-quarter TD run to make it 34-10, but the Mavericks eventually got the score down to 34-24 thanks to a defensive touchdown and a Brady Veltien 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter. That's as close as Mead could get, though.
"The games we've had so far, we just hadn't had a team challenge us like Mead just did," Cooper said. "This will be a good one to review, because we need to iron some things out."
Roper surpassed 5,000 rushing yards for his career and is now on pace to get into the state's all-time top 15 with a deep playoff run and continued good health.
Mead hosts Skyview next week in 3A Northern Metro League play, while Erie travels north to play North Valley League foe Northridge in Greeley.
Erie 41, Mead 24
At Mead HSErie (5-0)141377—41Mead (2-3)7377—24
Mead — Ryan Bullock 2 run (Taylor Kamigaki kick). Erie — Noah Roper 1 run (Julian Custine kick). Erie — Roper 1 run (Custine kick).
Mead — Kamigaki 26 field goal. Erie — Jaymeson Nelms 18 pass from Gavin Mendoza (Custine kick). Erie — Roper 2 run (kick failed).
Erie — Roper 57 run (Custine kick). Mead — Taylor Kamigaki fumble recovery in end zone (Kamigaki kick).
Mead — Brady Veltien 1 run (Kamigaki kick). Erie — Ian Vera 5 run (Custine kick).
RUSHING — Erie: Noah Roper 32-304, Tyler Gardner 5-23, Gavin Mendoza 4-11, Ian Vera 3-9, Cameron Crooks 3-9. Mead: Nathan Bailey 11-56, Jake Wachter 9-50, Ryan Bullock 8-29, Devon Edwards 5-8, Nick Jacobs 1-2, Caleb Domenico 4-9, Brady Veltien 5-23, Brayden Keys 3-26.
PASSING — Erie: Mendoza 2-3-0-28, Roper 2-3-1-50. Mead: Veltien 4-8-2-99, Wachter 1-1-0-31.
RECEIVING — Erie: Kaleb Fuhrmann 1-39, Jaymeson Nelms 1-18, Isaac Khanna 1-11, Ian McDonald 1-10. Mead: Nick Jacobs 2-54, Wachter 2-36, Trey Ward 1-30.